I may sound like a dreamer but the day might be coming when Hawaii’s land developers start to value mature shade trees as assets to draw people into shopping areas rather than detriments to be obliterated.

This has not always been the case. In 2014, Kobayashi and MacNaughton Groups and General Growth cut down 26 healthy large canopy shade trees to make way for the Park Lane residential development at Ala Moana Center.

But during the same period, International Market Place developers saved the 160-year-old Indian banyan tree at the entrance to the Waikiki shopping complex as well as several large monkeypod trees throughout the project.

Alexander & Baldwin now is considering ways to save nine trees it planned to either cut down or relocate in the Manoa Marketplace.

The company says it will give serious consideration to a new plan from the Outdoor Circle to preserve seven mature monkeypod trees between Safeway and Longs the developer says it needs to cut down, and keep in place another two large shade monkeypod trees it now plans to relocate to the Woodlawn entrance to the shopping complex.

The company is scheduled to meet with the Outdoor Circle and representatives from other Manoa community groups Wednesday to review the proposal to save the trees.

Manoa Marketplace Monkeypod Tree parking lot.
Alexander & Baldwin had planned to destroy iconic monkeypod trees at Manoa Marketplace but now says it will reconsider. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Monkeypod trees have flourished in Hawaii for more than a century. In her book “Trees of Hawaii,” field biologist Angela Kay Kepler says: “Even back in 1915, naturalist W.A. Bryan commented that they ‘occupied every yard and square about Honolulu’ and that specimens spreading shade over a space 150 feet across were common on all the islands.”

A&B’s plan to remove the monkeypod trees prompted an outcry from the Manoa community that sparked a petition now signed by more than 14,000 people. Some of the most adamant critics say they are willing to resort to civil disobedience if they have to to preserve the large shade trees.

“If A&B keeps violating the wishes of the community, it will turn into a very emotional response. This is a deep, deep emotional issue for the people who live here,” says Manoa resident Nancie Caraway.

Supporters of the shopping center trees say they create a cool, shady look iconic to Manoa that attracts people to the shopping center.

In a statement emailed to Civil Beat Friday, A&B said it’s evaluating the Outdoor Circle’s proposal to save the trees “along with other design concepts and are encouraged about the possibility of saving some or potentially all of the trees while addressing the safety concerns in the parking lot. We look forward to our next meeting with the Outdoor Circle.”

“We understand the trees are a prominent feature of the shopping center and that the residents have a lot of attachment to them,” says A&B spokesman Darren Pai.

A&B informed the Manoa Neighborhood Board Dec. 6 that it needed to remove the healthy monkeypod trees because the trees’ roots had become a safety hazard, uplifting asphalt and creating cracks in the parking lot which people were tripping over.

“The aggressive root systems of some trees have broken through the pavement, making the area potentially dangerous to pedestrians,” Pai says.

A&B new owners of Manoa Marketplace had the Monkeypod tree roots protuding the asphalt painted yellow.
Yellow paint covers the protruding roots of monkeypod trees. The roots are a public hazard, the shopping center owner says. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Outdoor Circle president and landscape architect Steve Mechler gave A&B his sketch last week to show how all safety concerns can be addressed while at the same time preserving all the trees.

“The trees make the shopping center a unique and special destination for Manoa residents as well as the rest of the community,” says Mechler.

In Mechler’s plan, the asphalt around the trees would be removed and replaced with a green belt with the current parking relocated closer to a largely unused, pedestrian area in front of the shopping center building. It rains so frequently in Manoa that the uncovered pedestrian area is usually empty.

Mechler says benches could be installed in the planted areas around the trees to make gathering places for the community.

Mechler is responsible for the landscaping of many Oahu shopping centers including Ala Moana Center in its first remodeling before it was sold to General Growth Partners and the Koko Marina Shopping Center

“My plan for Manoa Marketplace addresses A&B’s safety concerns by moving the asphalt from the top of the trees’ roots which currently is creating a negative element and instead creates a positive impact by moving the parking,” he says.

A&B’s real estate subsidiary, A&B Properties, purchased the 40-year-old Manoa Marketplace two years ago. The property is suffering from years of deferred maintenance and, besides removing the tree hazards, the company says it will restripe the now-unevenly marked parking area to end up with more parking spaces.

Mechler says his plan also adds more parking stalls for a total of 152 parking places, eight fewer than what the marketplace will end up with after A&B restripes the lot.

Outdoor Circle President Steve Mechler Landscape Architect stands in the parking lot of Manoa Marketplace mall with Monkeypod Trees in background.
Outdoor Circle President Steve Mechler has come up with a plan he says will work for both the tress and the developer. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“It isn’t the only solution but it is a solution that meets all the variables that need to be addressed such as preventing pedestrians from tripping on uplifted asphalt and adding additional parking,” says Mechler.

Outdoor Circle executive director Winston Welch says: “We believe we have come up with an elegant solution to address safety concerns, save the trees, provide green space and more parking. We know the company has a responsibility to keep people safe but it also has a responsibility to be a good neighbor.”

Melcher’s plan comes after 14,521 people to date have signed a petition urging A&B to keep all the trees in place at the Manoa Marketplace.

Manoa resident Neil Bond of the group called Manoa Alliance launched the on-line petition Jan. 1.

Bond says he’s overwhelmed by the response to the petition which is averaging 2,000 new signatures each day.

“The issue has become a lightning rod. It’s really galvanized the people. The trees in Manoa Marketplace are a cherished symbol of the valley,” says Bond.

“The trees make the shopping center a unique and special destination for Manoa residents as well as the rest of the community.” — Steve Mechler, Outdoor Circle president

In another new development, the directors of the community group Malama Manoa voted unanimously Wednesday to ask A&B to preserve all nine trees.

“Besides being beautiful, big trees, they are the essence of Manoa,” says Malama Manoa board member Lowell Angell. “Without the trees, the parking lot will look barren like Costco in Iwilei. It is horrible to think of cutting large shade trees it took 40 years to grow.”

Malama Manoa plans to send a letter this week to its 3,700 members to urge them to write letters, email and call A&B CEO Chris Benjamin to let him know the Manoa community wants the shade trees kept in place.

“It is something we feel passionate about,” says Angell, whose family has lived in Manoa Valley for three generations.

A&B is scheduled to meet with the Manoa Neighborhood Board Feb. 7 at Noelani Elementary School to give an update on its plans for the trees.

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