The Honolulu City Council Zoning and Planning Committee has green-lighted an 11,750-home development called Hoopili between Ewa and Kapolei despite opposition from residents worried about the project’s impact on traffic and the availability of farmland.

It’s a big victory for developer D.R. Horton, which has been angling for years to get past the city and state zoning requirements to turn nearly 1,300 acres of prime, productive farmland into homes.

The vote to approve the company’s rezoning application was unanimous.

Honolulu resident David Gonzales holds a sign during Hoopili hearing at the city council  5 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Honolulu resident David Gonzales holds a sign during Hoopili hearing at the City Council on March 5.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“To me Hoopili is a critical component – residential component — of implementing the Oahu General Plan,” said Ikaika Anderson, chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee.

The bill still needs to be heard by the full Council and will also have one more hearing in the Zoning and Planning Committee before its final vote before the Council.

But the momentum behind the $4 billion project suggests that it will sail through its final approvals. D.R. Horton has been lobbying heavily for the development for years. Since 2009, its employees have paid Mayor Kirk Caldwell $15,550 in campaign donations.

According to state campaign spending records, D.R. Horton employees have also given $7,750 to Council Chairman Ernie Martin; $5,300 to Councilwoman Kimberly Pine; over $1,700 to Anderson; and $1,500 to Councilman Trevor Ozawa and Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga.

On Thursday, many people testified in favor and against the project, which had an initial hearing Monday evening in Kapolei. The biggest argument in favor of the project was the need for affordable housing.

Tyler Dos Santos Tam, executive director at the Hawaii Construction Alliance, urged lawmakers to consider that not only would the project provide construction jobs, but it would increase the supply of much-needed homes and ease the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Real estate expert Ricky Cassiday told council members that three in four of their constituents could use affordable housing.

Overflowing crowd watches Hoopili testimony on a tv outside the 2nd floor meeting room.  5 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Overflowing crowd watches Hoopili testimony on a TV outside the 2nd floor meeting room.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Other supporters included the Pacific Resource Partnership, Building Industry Association and individual members of Hawaii’s construction and labor unions.

A D.R. Horton representative handed out gray shirts to supporters proclaiming that Hoopili is “The right place for West Oahu’s future.”

But opponents like Anthony Aalto, who chairs the Oahu chapter of the environmental group the Sierra Club, said the main problem with the project is that it’s in the wrong place.

“We love the dense development, we just don’t love it in this place,” he said.

Aalto was one of many critics who testified that the homes shouldn’t be built on prime agricultural land.

“A generation ago we still believed in the concept of suburbs. All across America people were fleeing city centers,” Aalto said. “That dream has died.”

He said in two decades, Oahu has paved over half of its farmland. His testimony echoed that of others who said the project would impede Hawaii’s quest to improve food security.

“If you step outside of Kapolei Hale as you did the other day, you can see more than 500 acres of dusty open fields,” Aalto said. “That’s where this belongs.”

The Sierra Club has a lawsuit challenging the state Land Use Commission’s approval of Hoopili pending in the Hawaii Supreme Court.

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