Representatives from homebuilder D.R. Horton said Thursday that the company is willing to lower the prices of the affordable housing that it must provide if the city approves its rezoning application for Hoopili, a 11,750-home proposed development in West Oahu.

But the company rejected an amendment that would limit the number of homes it can sell before certain transportation infrastructure is in place.

The City Council Zoning and Planning discussed the project Thursday at Honolulu Hale.

The panel plans to reconvene April 30 to vote on whether to rezone farmland to make way for the development. If the committee agrees, the proposal will go to the full Council for a final vote.

City Councilman and chair Ikaika Anderson listens to Hoopili testimony.  5 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

City Councilman Ikaika Anderson listens to testimony on Hoopili on March 5 at Honolulu Hale.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Honolulu’s current affordable housing rules require that large projects that receive rezoning approval must set aside 30 percent of the units as affordable to certain income groups.

In Hoopili, that’s about 3,525 homes. Under the current rules, some 2,820 of those homes could be sold to people earning 140 percent of area median income or less. That’s $134,140 for a family of four or $93,980 for an individual, according to the city’s 2014 affordable housing rules.

But Cameron Nekota, a vice president at the company, told City Council members Thursday that the developer would be willing to decrease that upper limit to 120 percent of area median income, which was $114,980 for a family of four or $80,560 for an individual in 2014.

Nekota emphasized that D.R. Horton is committed to providing affordable housing.

“We’ve always been focused on the first-time homebuyer market,” Nekota said.

The developer’s willingness to decrease the income limit came after two council members, Ron Menor and Ikaika Anderson, introduced amendments to make the homes more affordable.

“Given the extent of traffic congestion on our roads, the city needs to consider different approaches and implement better planning.” — Councilman Ron Menor

But while council members were pleased with D.R. Horton’s willingness to accommodate their suggestion, some appeared frustrated with Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s delay in finalizing his affordable housing strategy.

The mayor published a draft version last fall that was heralded by affordable housing advocates as as significant improvement upon the current policy, but Department of Planning and Permitting Director George Atta said the final version will likely not be available until mid-summer, after the Council votes on Hoopili.

Councilman Trevor Ozawa expressed confusion at the mayor’s decision to wait until June.

“This is the biggest opportunity for our city to get housing for what what we need. We really need this project to be done correctly,” he said, noting that he wants the Council to work with the mayor. “He really should be either here testifying or providing some sort of document to figure out where he’s going with this strategy.”

Caldwell’s spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said in an email that Atta attended the hearing as the mayor’s representative. “That is the case for almost every council hearing; the relevant department head appears on behalf of the administration,” he wrote, noting that there was no request made to ensure that the mayor appeared.

Harrison Rue, the city’s director of transit-oriented development, explained in an emailed statement that city officials are working out the details of the mayor’s housing strategy as well as conducting legal reviews.

“Even after the new requirements are introduced at Council, and adopted or amended, there will be several months required to develop the administrative rules and procedures, get public comment, and finalize the rulemaking, before they will be applied to development proposals,” he wrote.

He said that D.R. Horton’s current proposal doesn’t exactly align with the mayor’s proposed housing strategy, which makes sense because the strategy is still in draft form.

“Of course, we encourage the developer to incorporate as many of the elements from the draft housing strategy as they think are feasible for their project,” he wrote.

Resistance to transportation amendments

But while D.R. Horton was willing to lower the prices of some homes, the company’s representatives were resistant to Menor’s suggestions that they limit the number of homes they build until certain transportation systems are up and running.

Bob Bruhl, who leads the company’s Hawaii operations, said that the company already has to update its Traffic Impact Analysis Report every 2,300 units.

The document specifies the transportation improvements that are needed to mitigate the impact of the extra traffic expected from Hoopili, including adding one lane in each direction on the H-1 freeway, updating roads and building Honolulu rail.

“That effectively accomplishes everything you’re looking for here,” Bruhl said.

Menor disagreed, noting that the TIAR doesn’t specify any deadlines for the improvements. “When is all of this supposed to occur?” he asked rhetorically after the hearing.

The city’s unilateral agreements generally don’t contain any provisions requiring that transportation infrastructure actually be completed before homes are built, Menor explained to Civil Beat.

“This is the biggest opportunity for our city to get housing for what what we need. We really need this project to be done correctly.” — Councilman Trevor Ozawa

But he thinks the Council needs to seriously consider adding that requirement to this project, given that the city’s traffic congestion is consistently ranked among the worst in the nation. A traffic jam on Tuesday forced some drivers to stay on the road for over five hours.

“Given the extent of traffic congestion on our roads, the city needs to consider different approaches and implement better planning,” he said.

While some cities have placed moratoriums on where developers can build until transportation systems are finished, Honolulu hasn’t done so. The pattern of building homes without ensuring there are adequate roads or public transit systems has helped cause today’s terrible traffic, according to University of Hawaii urban planning professor Kem Lowry.

Menor said he doesn’t think the city has a guarantee that the transportation improvements will be implemented early enough to mitigate Hoopili’s significant traffic impacts.

“I think the TIAR makes clear that traffic congestion already is at an intolerable level,” Menor said. “Whether you (rate the traffic) D or E or F, the fact is that experts and the people who drive back and forth from work every day are all in agreement that the traffic is intolerable and the development of Hoopili is going to exacerbate it.”

The committee plans to vote on all of the amendments when it meets on April 30.

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