You may think of me as a do-gooder, always concerned and lamenting about the disappearance of open space in Kakaako as developers scramble to erect an expected 30 new concrete towers for a downtown population projected to exceed 30,000 people.

But I have never given up believing that the Kakaako residents and their families will need more open, green shady park space to exist in a humane way in their densely packed new urban neighborhood — free space where they can relax, regroup and simply breathe.

Hawaii’s candidates for governor tell me I am not the only one worried about crowding and unchecked development in Kakaako.

Kakaako development area

The Kakaako development area. What will happen to existing green space and will more be added?

Hawaii Community Development Authority

Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, running for governor on the Hawaii Independent Party ticket, says that he hears from residents on every island that there needs to be more careful government oversight over Kakaako.

“You don’t have to be from Oahu to be concerned about Kakaako,” said Hannemann, when I spoke with him by cell phone on Lanai where he was campaigning this weekend.

David Ige, the Democratic Party candidate, says he was surprised to find out everywhere he travels that Kakaako is one of the top concerns. “As far away as on the Big Island they say they don’t want to see overdevelopment in Kakaako.”

It is disheartening to watch the Office of Hawaiian Affairs continue to push to build additional residential high rises on 30 acres abutting Kakaako Waterfront Park.

On Sept. 30, OHA will announce the name of the company it has selected from a list of bidders to draw up a plan for its Kakaako lands for the next 20 years, a plan it says will include residential towers on some of the 10 parcels it has on the ocean side of Kakaako — an area many advocates want left open for recreational needs.

Renting Out Kakaako Space

Also sad is the Hawaii Community Development Authority’s eagerness to rent out sections of waterfront public park space to private businesses including a proposal to lease up to a third of Kakaako Waterfront Park to a company from Japan for a themed light show for which the public would have to pay admission to attend.

Once parkland is leased for commercial use, critics are concerned it will never again be available to the public.

Democratic Party candidate David Ige says he opposes renting Kakaako park property to private companies. Independent Party candidate Hannemann and Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona are also uncomfortable with such leases.

HCDA is the state agency in charge of development in Kakaako.

Anthony Ching, its executive director, is holding public hearings now on the light show and other proposals to rent out parts of Kakaako waterfront parks for commercial activities to raise money to maintain the parks.

The parks are Kakaako Waterfront, Kakaako Mauka Gateway, Kakaako Makai Gateway and Kewalo Basin Park, a total of 41 acres.

Ching is unenthusiastic about keeping Kakaako’s parks in open, passive green space like Kapiolani and Ala Moana Beach parks. He once told me in an interview, “If we have only open green grass at Kakaako, the homeless would take it over.”

Maybe so, but homeless campers  have not yet commandeered all the open green space at Kapiolani and Ala Moana parks.

Ching says some family-friendly commercial activities are needed to draw residents down to Kakaako because the parks are underused now.

But one obvious reason Kakaako’s parks  are underused is because the HCDA has made little effort to make them inviting. The 4-acre Kakaako Makai Gateway Park has no benches and tables around which people can congregate for picnics and family fun.

Kakaako Mauka Gateway Park is rimmed with tents owned by homeless individuals who have set up shop with no one urging them to move on.

Once parkland is leased for commercial use, critics are concerned it will never again be available to the public.

Kakaako resident Sharon Moriwaki says that parks in Kakaako Makai  with tables and benches such as the  Kakaako Waterfront Park are well used by picnickers and their families and not overrun by homeless campers.

Ige and Hanneman and Jeff Davis, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, are opposed to OHA’s quest to build residential towers on Kakaako’s makai lands, an area many activists hope will be retained for park space in the future for the growing population.

Jeff Davis says, “Kakaako Makai is for recreation. There is so little open space in this dense urban environment.  Let’ s keep the ocean side space development free but let’s also start a dialogue with OHA to see if there’s a way for OHA  to build residential towers somewhere else.”

David Ige’s campaign says he is interested in trying to work out some type of land swap or buyout with OHA to persuade OHA not to build residential high-rises on Kakaako Makai.

Ige says, “ It is critically important for OHA to have a clear and strategic development plan coupled with a sound financial plan for Kakaako Makai. I would be open to working with OHA on options that would include some type of equitable land exchange.”

“I support the current law, which prohibits all landowners from developing residential projects in Kakaako Makai,” Ige says.

Hannemann says, “I don’t want any high-rise residential developments on the makai side but I am willing to sit down with OHA to work on alternative sites on the mauka side for its residential buildings.”

Only Republican candidate Duke Aiona says he is open to OHA’s proposal to put residential developments on its Kakaako Makai lands. “I am sure OHA will be a great steward of that area.”

Although, Aiona says, there will probably have to be some sort of compromise made because of the current prohibition of residential projects on Kakaako Makai.

City Control?

Mufi Hannemann says if he’s elected he would propose that all development rights for Kakaako area be taken away from the governor-appointed HCDA board of directors and returned to the City and County of Honolulu.

Hannemann says with the city in charge, it will be easier to demand concessions from Kakaako’s developers for more affordable housing and additional park space in return for permits.

Hannemann says the city will be able to “put more teeth in the ‘ask.’”

Hannemann says there will be more safeguards and more transparency resulting in  “orderly planned growth in Kakaako consistent with home rule.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell favors Hannemann’s plan to return Kakaako development management to the city.

“The time has come for that,” says Caldwell.

Caldwell says he would like to see more pocket parks in Kakaako Mauka and what he calls “parklets,” which he says would be small parks between buildings like you see in cities like Paris where people can sit and relax under shady trees.

Caldwell says he hopes more developers will go beyond what’s currently required by their permits when it comes to open space.

He points to developer Stanford Carr’s refurbishing of Mother Waldron Park, a project Carr finished last week with the $580,00 left over from his Halekauwila Place affordable rental project.  Carr was not required by the HCDA to do the Mother Waldron renovation.

David Ige is opposed to turning over Kakaako’s development rights to the city. He says state lawmakers this year rejected a bill for the city to take over Kakaako’s development.

Ige says he supports HCDA and he expects the agency to improve because of changes required by Act 61, passed by state legislators this session.

Act 61 freezes building height limits in Kakaako at 418 feet, reduces the governor’s power over appointments to the HCDA and requires the agency to be user-friendlier by making it post more public notice of its meetings and be more transparent in its dealings.

Ige is hopeful that the changes will make HCDA “more closely adhere to keeping the original version of a work, live and play urban community in Kakaako.”

Ige is concerned that Kakaako left unchecked will turn into a haven for foreign investors rather than a place for local residents to live and work.

Duke Aiona says he would want to preserve and improve the parks the state already owns at Kakaako and that he would strongly urge that those lands be kept in open green space, although he says he is open to some development in the parks for sports activities.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell favors returning Kakaako development management to the city.

Aiona says he doesn’t see asking developers for more land than they are already required by the rules to dedicate to parks and open space at Kakaako, but he would like the state to do a better job maintaining and improving the parks that are already there.

Ching, the executive director of the HCDA, says some commercial development in Kakaako’s park is necessary to generate some of the $1 million it costs each year to maintain the parks.

But Ige opposes giving up public park space to private businesses to generate revenues for park maintenance.  Ige says when he jogs though Kakaako Waterfront Park he doesn’t see a lot of park upkeep going on.  He says he would like to look at HCDA’s books to see why the maintenance costs are so high.

Ige says HCDA has other ways to raise money for maintenance costs such as assessing developers for park upkeep.

Libertarian candidate Davis also favors doing away with the HCDA and returning Kakaako’s development to the city.

All the candidates say they are avid supporters of insuring public park space in Kakaako. Their final words on it:

Jeff Davis: “In Kakaako’s dense urban environment, open park space is priceless and once it is gone you can’t get it back.”

Mufi Hannemann: “I am a proponent of more open space at Kakaako.”

Duke Aiona: “We don’t want everything to be concrete.”

David Ige: “I do believe the more open space we have in Kakaako, the better off we will be.”

About the Author