The Honolulu City Council voted Wednesday to push back decision-making on a luxury hotel and condominium project that’s planned for the corner of Kapiolani Boulevard and Atkinson Street in Ala Moana.

That’s a relief to affordable housing advocates who are frustrated that the development by Manaolana Partners won’t include any low-income units.

The condo-hotel is the first development to take advantage of a new permitting process for projects around planned rail stations that’s aimed at stimulating redevelopment. As a result, the project will benefit from significant density and height bonuses as well as reduced parking requirements.

City Council member Trevor Ozawa1. 1 june 2016
City Councilman Trevor Ozawa says the Council should take more time before approving a high-rise condo-hotel across from the Honolulu Convention Center. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

According to the city Department of Planning and Permitting, the new permitting process includes guidelines for how long low-income units must remain affordable and what income levels they should target, but doesn’t specify how the city should handle residential projects that don’t include any affordable units.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell proposed imposing an affordable housing requirement on all large developments in 2014, but has said he won’t introduce a bill to the Council until he gets support from developers.

Supporters of the project noted Wednesday that Manaolana Place is expected to provide hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic stimulus.

But housing advocates contend that the developer should provide low-income units in light of the city’s housing shortage, or donate more than the $2.4 million to the city’s affordable housing fund, as suggested by the city planning department.

At Wednesday’s hearing, council members voiced support for the project, and the decision to approve it was only delayed because Councilman Trevor Ozawa said it would be helpful to fine-tune the proposal in the Zoning and Planning Committee, which he chairs.

“I don’t want to get it wrong, I don’t want any of my colleagues to get it wrong,” he said at Wednesday’s hearing.

Ozawa suggested that the city give the developer the option of either donating $2.4 million to the city’s affordable housing fund or developing or purchasing 16 low-income rental units near a planned rail station.

The councilman said that the mayor’s affordable housing proposal has sparked confusion because it’s still in draft form and aspects of it are being applied to the Manaolana project. He criticized Caldwell for not appearing in person to testify about the affordable housing rules.

Gavin Thornton, an attorney with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, said that despite the delay in decision-making, it appears that a decision has already been made not to require the development of affordable units nor ask for more than $2.4 million.

“I still don’t feel like an analysis has been done to ensure that that is a good deal,” he said.

Ozawa said after the hearing that the $2.4 million could help other housing projects achieve the financing they need to be successful.

The councilman has received $4,000 in campaign contributions from Manaolana Partners but said that the money does not affect his evaluation of the project.

Ozawa said he plans to take up the proposal again at the Zoning and Planning Committee meeting on Sept. 22.

About the Author