Expect the intersection of Keeaumoku Street and Kapiolani Boulevard — already one of the most congested in the Ala Moana district – to get a lot busier in the coming years.

Hawaii-based Cuzco Development pitched its plans to build either two 42-story high-rises or two 37-story towers and a mid-rise to the Ala Moana-Kakaako Neighborhood Board on Tuesday night.

The company hopes they’ll be the latest projects to receive special transit-oriented development permits, which allow buildings near planned rail stations to be significantly taller and denser than what regular zoning rules allow.

Projects receiving the permits are also expected to include fewer parking spaces because of their proximity to the rail line. But that hasn’t been the case so far and the Cuzco projects would continue that trend, something that didn’t sit well among community members at the meeting who were concerned about traffic congestion.

“We’re all investing billions in trying to transform the city and the key is going to be weaning people off their cars,” said board member Chris Chung.

One of Cuzco Development’s proposals is to build two 400-foot towers along Keeaumoku. Courtesy of Cuzco Development

Cuzco is proposing to build about 980 units total on a 3.5-acre site along Keeaumoku Street between Rycroft and Liona streets – a six-minute walk from Ala Moana Center. The developer wants to include about 1,570 parking stalls.

Keith Kurahashi, a planning consultant working on the Cuzco development, said once the rail line is operating there may be a five- to 10-year adjustment period before people start riding it. The developer is designing the project so that once people become accustomed to public transportation, the parking lot can be converted for other uses. 

But city planner Renee Espiau argued at the meeting that providing parking now and converting it later would initially raise the price of the units, making the neighborhood less affordable. A condo with a parking stall typically sells for more than a similar unit without parking.

The city would prefer all of the developments along the rail line provide more affordable housing and fewer parking stalls, Espiau said. 

Once Cuzco submits an application for a permit to the city, the Department of Planning and Permitting can make recommendations, but the City Council has the ultimate say on what developers must do in exchange for the zoning exemptions.

The council has approved seven new high-rises in the area in the last three years. Combined, these buildings will bring 2,666 condo or condo-hotel units.

Five of the seven projects were approved for special transit-oriented development permits, which require builders to include community benefits such as affordable housing and public space.

Chris Chung, second from the left, and other members of the Ala Moana-Kakaako Neighborhood Board questioned developers Tuesday night. Natanya Friedheim/ Civil Beat

Cuzco is considering two designs for its property. Both include affordable units and a public park that will be either 30,000 or 37,000 square feet.

“That’s the big gift,” said Vernon Inoshita, an architect working on the project.

Cuzco is also asking the council to amend the proposed Ala Moana transit-oriented development plan, a measure being drafted by the council that will guide development in the district. Cuzco wants the council to allow developers to build more densely along Keeaumoku Street.

If the council makes that change, Cuzco has said it would opt for a design that has more affordable housing and a larger park.

The neighborhood board voted to oppose the developer’s request that the City Council change the Ala Moana TOD plan out of concerns over traffic congestion. It did not take a stand on Cuzco’s proposed towers.

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