The Hawaii Community Development Authority has been under fire for months by residents who worry about whether the agency has been managing development properly in the urban district of Kakaako.
Now, state and city lawmakers are grappling with the question of whether they should curb the authority of an agency some critics describe as “rogue.”
The Honolulu City Council Zoning and Planning Committee adopted a resolution on Thursday morning that would give the city more control over the HCDA’s decisions.
Zoning and Planning Committee Chairman Ikaika Anderson, who is running for Congress, initially put forward a resolution to support the elimination of the HCDA and the return of control of zoning and planning in Kakaako to the city.
But during a committee meeting on Thursday, he instead asked the committee to adopt a weaker version of the measure that merely supports a change in the composition of the agency’s boards to allow more input from city officials.
“I believe this is a middle-ground approach,” Anderson said.
Thursday’s City Council committee meeting likely foreshadows the debate that will take place when the Legislature takes up eight HCDA-related bills at a Water and Land Committee hearing on Saturday.
The committee isn’t planning to vote that day on the bills, which range from simply putting an end to the agency to a one-year moratorium on development to changing the agency’s rules on public hearings, housing affordability and building density.
But House Majority Leader Scott Saiki, who introduced seven of the measures, is already backpedaling from his aggressive initial approach.
“If we were to repeal the HCDA, then the city would take over and I’m not sure that the city would do a better job,” he told Civil Beat on Thursday. Since the state has already invested millions of dollars in infrastructure in the Kakaako area, he said, “the state should complete its mission.”
That’s good news for organizations representing the construction industry, such as Pacific Resource Partnership and the Hawaii Construction Alliance, both of which oppose getting rid of the agency.
Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, executive director of the Hawaii Construction Alliance, said that repealing the HCDA would create job insecurity for hundreds of construction workers and slow the construction of much-needed housing.
“In a scenario where it’s unclear who has control, developers will put their hands up and not want to do anything,” he said.
But Saiki does believe that there needs to be more legislative oversight of the HCDA, which was initially created in 1976 to transform Kakaako from an industrial area to a vibrant commercial and residential neighborhood.
In the past year, residents have sharply criticized the HCDA, arguing that it has approved developments in Kakaako too quickly and without enough public input.
In 2013, the agency approved six applications from developers — three times more than the previous year — including a highly controversial second tower at 801 South St.. The agency has approved every development application in recent years. The sole partial exception came last summer when a developer withdrew his proposal.
The agency’s Mauka Area Rules, adopted in 2011, predict the area’s population will grow from 20,000 to 30,000 in the next 20 years and housing units will nearly double.
Critics of the HCDA say that in its quest to develop Kakaako, the agency works on behalf of developers rather than in the best interest of the community.
Saiki’s bills would force the HCDA to change its rules to accommodate concerns that the agency needs more transparency and accountability.
Lindsey Doi, spokeswoman for the HCDA, declined to comment on the various proposals.
“Whether or not the lawmakers decide to change the rules is not something that we have control over,” she said. “We defer to them as to what they would like to do.”
Residents filed two appeals last year regarding two planned developments, the one at 801 South St. and The Collection. On Wednesday, HCDA voted to require residents who are appealing the approval of The Collection to show that they have just cause for bringing the petition. The agency hasn’t yet considered the petition from residents appealing the 801 South St. project.
Another bill, House Bill 1862, would require the agency to change its affordable-housing policies. The measure is in response to concerns from residents that new developments are creating luxury housing, rather than homes that are affordable for Hawaii’s workforce.
Right now, HCDA defines ‘workforce housing’ as affordable for people earning between 100 and 140 percent of an area’s median income. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the median income for a family of four is about $83,000, about the salary of a senior teacher on the union-scale in Hawaii.
Saiki is also advocating for a measure, House Bill 1866, that would force the governor to fill the seats on the agency’s boards.
Justin Fujioka, spokesman for Gov. Neil Abercrombie, said in a statement that the governor believes the HCDA is carrying out its original vision of creating a vibrant Kakaako. “This vision requires the expertise of various individuals and appointments must be made with careful analysis,” he said.
HCDA has a 9-member board for each district that it governs: Kakaako, Kalaeloa and Heeia. Four members of each board are the governor’s Cabinet members, and other positions have been vacant for months.
The Kakaako board has been missing a cultural specialist since last summer. The Kalaeloa and Heeia boards are also each missing a community representative and cultural expert.
Additional measures, House Bill 1863 and House Bill 1867, would change the agency’s rules governing building density and heights. HB 1867 would also prohibit the agency from approving applications unless adequate infrastructure is available.
In response to complaints from Kakaako residents about strong sewer smells in their neighborhood, the City Council adopted a resolution in December that asks the city to figure out what’s wrong and address the issue. An initial report by the city in January showed that it remains unclear what is causing the stench.
While many bills on the House side would curtail the HCDA’s power, nearly half of the Senate has signed onto Senate Bill 3122, which would allow residential development on Kakaako’s waterfront, which is known as Kakaako Makai.
Sen. Brickwood Galuteria from Kakaako introduced the measure, which would permit the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to allow condos to be built on its land in Kakaako Makai.
OHA received the land in 2012 as part of a deal with the state to settle a long-held dispute about ceded land, which is property that belonged to the Hawaiian Kingdom but was taken by the U.S. federal government and later given to the state.
At the time, media reports said the property was valued at $200 million, but Galuteria said that the land is worth less than that unless development is allowed.
The Legislature prohibited development in Kakaako Makai several years ago after residents, including fishermen and surfers, protested against Alexander and Baldwin’s planned high-rises.
But Galuteria said he thinks the agency could develop parcels closer to Ala Moana so that the new buildings don’t affect the shoreline.
“It will never be a win-win situation all the way 100 percent, but then nothing ever is,” he said. “If we can get them [OHA] to minimize impact on the makai, I think they [residents] would agree.”
Contact Anita Hofschneider on Twitter @ahofschneider.