Hawaii businessman Duane Kurisu is asking the Honolulu City Council for permission to build a 150-foot radio tower next to Kahauiki Village, a low-income housing project along Nimitz Highway that Kurisu built with help from the state and local governments.

Radio broadcasting company Blow Up needs to relocate its radio tower to continue operating two AM radio stations: KHKA, the Hawaii affiliate of NBC Sports Radio Network, and Christian radio station KLHT.

Kurisu owns Blow Up. He is also the founder of its parent company, aio.

The tower must relocate from its current location just across Nimitz Highway from Kahauiki Village to make way for Honolulu’s 20-mile elevated rail project.

“We were notified by (the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation) that we would have to move the tower because if you overlay on a map of HART, it completely obliterates our existing radio tower,” said aio president Susan Eichor.

An early rendering of Kahauiki Village by architect Lloyd Sueda showed the large radio tower on the right side of the peninsula (inside the circle). 

Kurisu said he approached the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to find land where Blow Up could relocate its radio tower. Before he had even thought to build a homeless village, Kurisu said he worked out an agreement to lease a circle of state-owned land from DLNR on the peninsula near Keehi Lagoon.

The state also transferred about 13 acres of land surrounding the planned radio tower to the city, which leases the land to aio Foundation, the nonprofit arm of aio, for $1 per year. The lease agreement is part of the public investment in Kahauiki Village, which consists of 30 living units rented to formerly homeless families.

“It’s a completely separate transaction,” Kurisu said. “We just said, ‘We’re leasing this round circle from DLNR,’ then, ‘Wow here’s this big other piece of property, maybe we could use it for a homeless project.’ Again, two separate transactions. I know it’s confusing, it was confusing to a lot of people before. It’s not. One is for-profit and the other one is nonprofit.”

HART is paying to relocate the radio tower, according to an environmental assessment for the project. HART spokesman Bill Brennan said the exact cost is being worked out, but an application for the permit indicates the relocation will cost at least $1 million.

A Quick Vote

Blow Up needs to move its tower by the end of the year to make way for rail, Eichor said. Before that can happen, the City Council would have to pass Resolution 18-124, which would grant Kurisu a major special management area permit. The council’s Zoning and Housing Committee last week approved Kurisu’s permit application.

The measure now goes to the full council, which meets Wednesday, for final approval.

In an unusual move, zoning committee Chair Kymberly Pine fast-tracked  Kurisu’s permit application onto the agenda of her committee’s June 29 meeting by adding the item onto the agenda at the start of the meeting rather than six business days before the meeting, as required by state law.

Honolulu City Council Vice Chair Kymberly Pine before 3rd reading vote on Bill 35 rideshare bill.
Councilwoman Kymberly Pine added the radio tower permit application to an agenda at the start of a recent committee meeting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It was the first time Pine had used the procedure, known as “sunshining,” in her six years on the council.

“I’ve never sunshined an item because I just always want the community to have some time,” Pine said at the meeting. “But I know this committee very well, and we have been very critical of rail costs overruns and we found that if we didn’t go ahead and approve this small location of a tower from one side of the street to the other then it could possibly have cost overruns for HART in their schedule and so that’s why we added it.”

Brennan said he could not provide details on the potential cost overruns alluded to, and Pine was not available for comments this week.

A two-thirds vote is required to add an item to an agenda less than six days before a meeting, and the item can’t be added if it is “of reasonably major importance” and the action will affect a significant number of people.

Pine said at the committee meeting that she looked over notes from community meetings where the project was discussed, and found no opposition.

The Radio Tower’s Impact

Community organizations, public officials and nearby property owners were sent notices about the radio tower relocation, according to a city Department of Planning and Permitting review of the project. DPP held a public meeting on May 10, but no members of the public attended.

The project’s environmental assessment, completed by telecommunication company Centerline Solutions, says the company made presentations to the Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board in April 2017 and again Feb. 21. The report says the project will have no major impacts on Kahauiki Village.

“The Proposed Action will in fact have a positive impact on environmental justice because all people with radios will benefit from continued reliance in the Honolulu area, as well as island-wide and no mitigation measures are necessary,” the report says.

About 30 formerly homeless families live in Kahauiki Village along Nimitz Highway. Courtesy: Aaron Yoshino

The Federal Communications Commission regulates radio frequency exposure, and the report says the tower will contribute less than or equal to 0.2 percent of the FCC’s maximum permissible exposure limit for nearby public areas.

A 6-foot chain-link fence would surround the radio tower, with a 150-foot radius to restrict access.

“You’ve probably seen most of the towers in town, you have development right up against the towers,” Eichor said. “So we’re … faulting on the other end and creating a real safe zone around the tower.”

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