Nanakuli’s mountains and homes are the first things you see driving up Oahu’s leeward coast, ending abruptly at an empty, overgrown field.

There are big plans for the field — plans that have been around for a long time.

It’s part of the 13-acre Nanakuli Village Center, in the works on Farrington Highway for more than a decade. The community development project is expected to create jobs and business opportunities for West Oahu residents. One phase has been completed, some are in the works and some are still in doubt.

The Nankuli Village Center is expected to include a commercial center, multipurpose learning center and satellite health clinic.

Kali Watson/Hawaiian Community Development Board

Plans call for the center to include:

• Hale Makana O Nanakuli affordable rental housing complex (completed) by the Nanakuli Hawaiian Homestead Community Association with the Hawaiian Community Development Board and California company Urban Housing Communities.

• The Nanakuli Commercial Center (off-site improvements started) by the Nanakuli Hawaiian Homestead Community Association, Hawaiian Community Development Board, 3Leaf Holdings and broker Sofos Realty Corporation.

• Agnes Kalaniho’okaha Cope Community Learning Center (incomplete) to be designed and operated by Kamehameha Schools.

• The Nanakuli Family Health Center (incomplete) to be designed and operated by the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.

• Liberty Dialysis Hawaii LLC (incomplete) to be built by the Nanakuli Hawaiian Homestead Community Association, Hawaiian Community Development Board, 3Leaf Holdings and broker Sofos Realty Corporation.

According to the project’s website, the shopping center’s tenants are expected to include Starbucks, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, L&L Hawaiian Barbecue and Pizza Hut with CVS Longs Drug Store as an anchor.

Kali Watson, project manager of the Nanakuli Village Center, said it’s finalizing its bank financing and hopes to begin construction of the commercial center this month.

“It’s been a very long and arduous task in trying to get this thing off the ground and for me personally I’ve worked on it for over 10 years,” Watson said. “It’s been a real challenge, especially when you try to do something and you’re representing a homestead nonprofit association that has no resources.”

Recently, the Nanakuli community qualified for a federal subsidy program designed to stimulate private investment in low-income communities by providing private investors with federal tax credits.

Watson said if the project qualifies for assistance through the program, it would be funded by American Savings Bank with the help of a federal New Markets Tax Credit provided by Hawaii-based community development entity Punawai O Pu’uhonua.

He said the funds would be used to construct the commercial and satellite health centers.

Struggling To Find Funding

A construction bid has been awarded to California-based general contracting firm Diede Construction, but whether construction will actually begin is unclear. The Nanakuli Hawaiian Homestead Community Association has been working on the project since 1992 when it secured a 9.8-acre parcel from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

The long-planned project has faced financial challenges since the association was awarded a 65-year lease in 2002.

In 2010, the Nanakuli Hawaiian Homestead Community Association appointed Watson’s nonprofit organization, the Hawaiian Community Development Board, to carry out the work. Watson said the board sought financing from banks but was unsuccessful.

Leeward residents say the empty site near an elementary school is prone to squatters and illegal activities.

Bianca Smallwood/ Civil Beat

“It was kind of frustrating, but understandable that when you’re dealing with a homestead association with no assets that it would be very difficult,” he said.

He said some banks required a significant number of tenants to sign rental agreements before they consider issuing a loan.

The commercial center and Hale Makana O Nanakuli Housing Project were divided into separate projects to help with costs. The $15 million housing project was completed in 2013 with the help of federal rental assistance and tax credits.

The following year Kamehameha Schools received approval from DHHL to negotiate its own lease for the learning center after the project was delayed due to financial difficulties.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the Nanakuli Hawaiian Homestead Community Association a total of $1.5 million in grants for off-site improvements to Farrington Highway, which includes road widening, sidewalks and a main signalized intersection, and for the construction of the learning center.

Watson said most of the off-site improvements have been completed.

Construction delays are common in Hawaii since the government permitting process is slow, but the Nanakuli Village Center situation is unusual.

“If it’s done correctly it shouldn’t take all these years,” said Lance Luke, a building consultant. “If they got their money together that’s the majority of the battle.”

 The association owed $23,339.36 in city property taxes and fees as of Monday, according to city and county records.

Luke, an opponent of the Honolulu rail project, said the Nanakuli Village Center reminds him of the behind-schedule and over-budget mass transit project.

“It doesn’t seem like the people really know what they’re doing,” he said.

Vacant Land A Concern

The village center has its passionate supporters, who say it’s a great economic opportunity for Oahu’s west side.

That part of the island — with a median household income of $58,807 and 25.9 percent of its population living in poverty — ranks among the poorest in the state.

“I do support this because of the time and effort they put into it,” Nanakuli-Maili Neighborhood Board member Patty Kahanamoku-Teruya said. “It’s not easy because the funding is always really hard.”

Critics counter that the project would create more traffic congestion, a longtime issue for Leeward residents.

Waianae Farrington traffic1. 18 nov 2016

Critics of the project worry that it will make Waianae’s traffic congestion worse.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Farrington cannot accommodate all that stopping, slowing, turning,” resident Sara Perry said. “Especially since no turn lane spaces on the shoulder or striping of the central lane have been addressed. I think it’s a kink that needs attention before they open it.”

In the meantime, there are concerns about the current vacant state of much of the site, especially among  residents whose children attend the nearby Nanaikapono Elementary School.

Perry and Kahanamoku-Teruya said that the area has been subject to homeless squatters, illegal dumping and drugs.

Watson told Civil Beat that he was unaware of anyone living on the property but that there may be someone residing on the Kamehameha Schools learning center site, which “does not involve” his organization.

State Rep. Andria Tupola said she had previously worked with Watson to clear a homeless encampment that emerged in the area.

Tupola said that if project leaders don’t take “swift action,” another encampment could develop.

“You can’t move people off of property if you’re not going to do anything with it, as you see when they do the sweeps on beaches,” Tupola said. “You move them, then you take all their stuff and then in one week they’re back because the area didn’t transform.”

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