When I was a child, my mother used to drive us out to Laie to participate in the hukilau that the Mormon Church put on from time to time to raise money.
We enjoyed watching men splashing through the turquoise water as they hauled in the net filled with hundreds of colorful, jumping fish. As we watched, we always had fun visiting with Laie residents, including the now famous chef Sam Choy, who was a little boy then, helping out at his father’s restaurant in Laie where we sometimes stopped to buy hamburgers.
Most of all we loved the long drive from our house in Kahala through banana patches and small rural villages to get to remote Laie.
Our expeditions were called “going to the country” and in some ways it was like going to another country; an entirely different area where the views from the mountains to the ocean were sweeping and the atmosphere was calm enough to stop my brother and I from our usual fighting in the backseat of the car.
The Oahu General Plan, a blueprint for the sustainable development of Oahu, has long recognized the need for such rural open space by directing development to central and west Oahu and away from the windward side of the island, which it slated for rural, agricultural space.
But even with the General Plan’s long-ago push for rural preservation and the recent promise from rail transit promoters that the new transit system would protect the country by encouraging growth in the urban corridor along the rail stations, my concern is that what we called “country” will slowly be merged into the city with the entire island of Oahu to eventually become one uniform urban place.
You can see the beginning of this creeping urbanization in Laie, where at that old-time hukilau I first began to understand the importance of open rural land.
I am talking about Hawaii Reserves Inc.’s plan called Envision Laie, which is to extend its current building spree even farther by turning 300 acres of agriculture-zoned land it owns at Malaekahana into a new town.
Hawaii Reserves is the land management arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).
Malaekahana is between Laie and Kahuku. Hawaii Reserves owns 900 acres there.
“It doesn’t make sense to urbanize the whole island. Who would want to come here?” —Creighton Mattoon, Punaluu Community Association
I think Hawaii Reserves’ plan to extend the urban boundary from Laie into rural Malaekahana land is harmful not just to Windward residents but to all of us.
The two-lane highway through the area will not support the additional traffic.
“Parts of the two-lane road at Kaaawa and Hauula are already eroding into the sea,” says Creighton Mattoon, the president of the Punaluu Community Association.
Allowing agricultural areas to be rezoned urban sets a bad precedent. It will change the rural character of a beautiful area Oahu that residents cherish for recreation and refreshment.
“It doesn’t make sense to urbanize the whole island,” says Mattoon. “Who would want to come here?”
It must be stopped.
Hawaii Reserves recently built multiple new structures at the Polynesian Cultural Center at Laie, including a 40-shop Disneyland-like attraction called, coincidently, the Hukilau Marketplace after our much-enjoyed Laie hukilau.
There is also a 144-room Marriott Courtyard Hotel scheduled to open this summer — a grey concrete monolith so ugly critics call it Motel Utah or the Laie Prison.
In addition, Hawaii Reserves plans to build 10 housing structures at Brigham Young University Hawaii to accommodate a planned 5 percent to 7 percent annual growth of its current 2,700-student population.
There was no way to stop all of that. That land at Laie is zoned for such buildings.
But rezoning the Malaekahana agricultural land is a different story. Many more hoops will have to be jumped through to make that happen, including council approval, a sign off by the mayor (in the past Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he’s for the Envision Laie plan) and many additional government permits.
The new town Hawaii Reserves hopes to build at Malaekahana would include a commercial center, a school, churches, office buildings, a light industrial park and 875 new housing units.
It would be bigger than Laie or Kahuku.
LDS church leaders defend the proposed new community at Malaekahana, saying it’s needed to avert what they call a housing crisis sparked by pent-up demand for homes by current residents and new residents coming in with the expansion of BYUH and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
“We have an income crisis in Laie, not a housing crisis.” — Choon James, real estate broker
Critics say that’s nonsense. The church had permits years ago to build housing on its 7,000 acres in Laie but failed to build the houses despite the so-called “crisis.”
Eric Beaver, president of Hawaii Reserves, says the existing housing designations in Laie are not suitable because they are either downwind of the sewer plant, on steep slopes or in low lying flood prone areas.
Hawaii Reserves says half of the housing in the new Malaekahana community would be affordable with single-family homes starting at $309,000.
But real estate broker Choon James says she doubts if all the Laie residents hoping to move into the new homes will qualify for mortgages to pay for them.
“We have an income crisis in Laie, not a housing crisis.” says James. “Many of the residents have part-time or low-paying jobs.”
James is a Mormon who graduated from Brigham Young University Hawaii, where her husband is a professor. She has lived in Laie for 35 years.
On Thursday, the LDS church is arranging buses to transport hundreds of supporters wearing bright blue Envision Laie T-shirts to Honolulu for a meeting of the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee.
The Envision Laie website urges attendance saying, “If you are in favor of housing and jobs for our community, now is the time to make your voices heard.”
Council members will be acting on Bill 47, which could either begin to clear the way for Hawaii Reserves proposed new town at Malaekahana or stop it.
Committee chairman Ikaika Anderson has submitted amendments to Bill 47 to derail the Malaekahana project by eliminating in the bill all references to Malaekahana in the Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan — a plan which now includes the development aims of Envision Laie.
“It would be too significant of a policy change to move the urban growth boundary.” — City Councilman Ikaika Anderson
Anderson said in a phone conversation Saturday it is OK with him if Hawaii Reserves builds at Laie or Kahuku on urban-zoned land, but it would be wrong to move the urban boundary to allow it to build in Malaekahana.
“Basically, I am against the development because it flies in the face of the Oahu General Plan, which calls for preserving our existing rural areas, including Malaekahana.”
Anderson says he supported the Second City at Kapolei but “I have no intention of creating a Third City” at Malaekahana.”
Anderson says Envision Laie’s contention that Laie residents need to have more affordable housing to prevent their children from moving away “does not hold water.”
Anderson says he has four children and he realizes when they grow up, all of them may not be able to afford to live close by him in Waimanalo.
“The people in Laie need to realize their children may not be able to keep living in Laie or Kahuku. We can’t keep building in rural areas.”
Anderson thinks the rest of the Zoning Committee will side with him and vote to stop Hawaii Reserves from building at Malaekahana.
“I haven’t polled them but my gut feeling is they will agree with me. It would be too significant of a policy change to move the urban growth boundary.”
Hauula resident Barbara Kahana says she has been fighting to keep the country country for more than 40 years.
She says she was dismayed when she worked two years with 20 members of advisory committee of the Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan, only to have the plan greatly changed in 2010 by the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting when, without consulting her or the others on the advisory committee, it altered the plan and inserted the Envision Laie proposal.
“We were shocked,” Kahana says. “They completely ignored what we put in the plan.”
The original Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan called for the area to be kept as an agricultural, open space, recreational area for all of Oahu.
Kahana says she admires what Anderson is doing to stop the Malaekahana proposal.
“Ikaika Anderson is standing up and doing what is right by not allowing expansion into Malaekahana because one single-minded business corporation wants to build a town at the expense of all its neighbors and the expense of future generations to enjoy open land with uninterrupted view planes.”
I agree. Imua Anderson! Make sure the Oahu General Plan is followed. Make sure there is a “country” we can drive to in the future, perhaps not to enjoy hukilau any more, but at least to enjoy the peace and comfort of rural views.