The Honolulu City Council has approved a bill to rezone nearly 1,300 acres in West Oahu to make way for a 11,750-home community by developer D.R. Horton.

The vote was unanimous.

Dozens of people testified at Honolulu Hale on Wednesday both for and against the project, which has been hotly debated since it was first considered by the state Land Use Commission in 2009.

Supporters emphasized the need for housing and jobs, while opponents stressed protecting farmland and how the project would worsen traffic congestion.

Demonstrator holds sign during Honolulu City council hearing on Hoopili development. 6 may 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A demonstrator holds protests Hoopili during a hearing at the Honolulu City Council.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

People on both sides gave passionate testimony. One opponent, former state Sen. John Carroll, even threatened to file a lawsuit if the project were approved.

The project has already drawn two lawsuits, including one that is pending at the state Supreme Court. Oral arguments for the challenge by the Sierra Club and former Sen. Clayton Hee are scheduled to be heard June 25 at 8:45 a.m.

Anthony Aalto, who leads the Oahu chapter of the Sierra Club, criticized Wednesday’s approval and said it illustrates the fact that “developers have deep pockets and many resources.”

“The fact that we’re just going ahead with this project because it’s been in the works for so long, because of inertia, it’s lazy as much as anything else,” Aalto said. “It might have been considered to be visionary back in the 1970s to come up with a concept of the Second City but it’s not visionary to execute it the way we are now.”

D.R. Horton officials didn’t reply to a request for comment Wednesday. But the rezoning approval drew praise from Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, executive director of the Hawaii Construction Alliance, which represents 15,000 carpenters, laborers, masons, bricklayers and operating engineers statewide.

“We are very happy about the outcome of this process which has taken not only many months at the City Council but many years in the community,” said Dos Santos-Tam. “For our members, this is a project that is going to create jobs and create housing and the chance for them to raise their families here in Hawaii.”

The bill goes next to Mayor Kirk Caldwell for his signature.

Affordable Housing and Traffic

Hoopili’s biggest selling point is its contribution to the high demand for affordable housing in Honolulu.

The project would include 2,350 homes marketed first to residents earning 120 percent of area median income or less. In 2014, that was $114,980 for a family of four or $80,560 for an individual. After three months, the homes could be sold to the general public.

Another 1,175 homes must be marketed first to people earning 80 percent or less of area median income, or $76,650 for a family of four in Honolulu in 2014. After three months, the homes could be sold to residents earning up to 120 percent of area median income; after six months, they could be sold to the general public.

D.R. Horton plans to invest $4 billion in the project and expects it will create 27,000 jobs in construction and related sectors over its 20-year build-out. In addition to providing homes, Hoopili includes five schools, a community garden and 200 acres of preserved farmland in response to concerns about the loss of agricultural land.

D.R. Horton also recently donated land within Hoopili to the Hawaiian Humane Society and the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.

Honolulu City Council member Ron menor questions Hoopili developers. 6 may 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Honolulu City Council member Ron Menor questions D.R. Horton officials during Wednesday’s hearing.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Despite the project’s benefits, Councilman Ron Menor, who represents Central Oahu, said he’s still concerned about its impact on traffic.

While Hoopili will surround a planned rail station, many residents are still expected to drive, adding to Honolulu’s already congested roads.

Menor pressed Cameron Nekota, vice president at D.R. Horton, as to why the developer opposed specific timelines for completing transportation infrastructure improvements.

Nekota said that he doesn’t know when such improvements will be completed, citing state and federal control over highways.

Department of Planning and Permitting Director George Atta told Menor it’s unfair to require D.R. Horton to abide by specific timelines regarding transportation infrastructure and noted that traffic is already intolerable.

“They can be part of the solution, they can’t be the whole solution,” Atta said.

Still, Atta admitted that the unilateral agreement for Koa Ridge, an earlier development by Castle & Cooke, was more stringent compared with Hoopili in that it included a deadline for completing a road improvement.

Contributions and Friendships

In addition to changing its development plan to win the support of Honolulu residents, D.R. Horton has made campaign contributions to city officials.

The company’s employees have donated thousands of dollars, including $15,550 to Caldwell; $7,750 to Council Chairman Ernie Martin; $2,925.98 to Zoning and Planning Committee Chairman Ikaika Anderson; $1,500 to Kimberly Pine; $1,000 to Joey Manahan; $1,000 to Carol Fukunaga; $500 to Trevor Ozawa; $500 to Ron Menor; and $200 to Brandon Elefante.

hoopili hearing. 6 may 2015.photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

City Councilman Ikaika Anderson said he is a close personal friend of Cameron Nekota of D.R. Horton.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Council members acknowledged Wednesday that in addition to benefiting from campaign donations, several are personal friends with the project’s supporters.

Anderson said Nekota from D.R. Horton “has been a good personal friend since the 1990s.” Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi also said that Nekota and his mother are her personal friends.

Elefante acknowledged that Dos Santos-Tam from the Hawaii Construction Alliance is a personal friend who has contributed to his campaign.

Ozawa said he spent two years working at a law firm that represented D.R. Horton.

Pine said that she’s personal friends with both supporters and opponents of the project.

Meanwhile, Manahan disclosed that his stepfather Paul Cassiday Jr. testified in support of the project.

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