The Honolulu City Council granted special permits Wednesday for a 400-foot-tall, 444-unit condo-hotel near Ala Moana Center, waiving some zoning restrictions because of its location along the future rail line.

California-based developer Manaolana AREP will be allowed to build up to 400 feet in an area with a 250-foot limit and with a higher density than normally allowed.

Under its land use ordinance, the city waives zoning restrictions for developments along the future rail line if the development is a “creative, catalytic” project.

In this case, the council added stiffer affordable housing requirements following criticism that the developer would be taking advantage of zoning exemptions.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed 38-story twin-tower hotel that would replace the six-story Heald College building at 1500 Kapiolani Blvd. 

Rather than the 68 affordable units originally required, the developer must ensure that 78 affordable units are built for people making 80 percent or less of area median income, or $58,600 annually for an invidual, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But those units wouldn’t be in the hotel. Instead, the developer would provide space for someone else to build at least some of them atop the Walgreen’s parking garage at the Ewa end of the development near the corner of Keeaumoku Street and Kapiolani Boulevard.

The developer cannot occupy the hotel or commercial spaces until a building permit is issued for the construction of the affordable units.

Kevin Carney of EAH Housing, a nonprofit housing corporation, said offering affordable units right across from Ala Moana Center is an “extremely rare opportunity.”

Aside from the affordable units and condo-hotel units, the project will include six residential penthouse units.

More than 200 people signed a petition supporting the project, which it says will create about 1,000 temporary jobs, mostly in construction, and 900 permanent jobs — mostly retail and hospitality.

State. Rep. Syliva Luke and Sen. Will Espero were among those who signed the petition.  

“This is a spectacular project for the Honolulu City Council and the city,” Pine said.

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