On Sept. 2, the Honolulu City Council was slated to consider Bill 2, a sweeping measure that would overhaul parking requirements on future development in Oahu’s urban areas.
The city legislation looks to change decades-old policies and leave residents less reliant on cars. Supporters hope it might also help lower housing costs. The bill embodies years of work by city planners to encourage more pedestrian-friendly urban design.
Bill 2 was up that morning for the second of three readings needed to pass. But shortly before the hearing started, then-City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson removed it from the agenda.
Local developers remain staunchly opposed to several of its key provisions, particularly its requirement that parking spaces and residential units be sold separately on future urban projects. Records show their lobbyists have held regular talks with city leaders on the issue this summer.
Anderson, who announced his resignation from the council a week later, told Civil Beat that he pulled the measure because several of his council colleagues had contacted him the night before and the morning of the hearing to express misgivings about it passing second reading. He said he had his own concerns about the bill as well.
Still, the move that morning confused some of Bill 2’s supporters, who were left wondering what happened after they had made time in their schedule to testify online.
“Nobody knew what was going on. It was dead air,” said Scott Cooney, a resident who logged in to the virtual meeting on Sept. 2 to testify in support. Later in the morning he received an email saying the measure had been pulled, he said.
Now, the effort to reform Honolulu’s parking policies is poised to lapse unless the council takes up Bill 2 at its meeting Wednesday.
Updated: Christine Camp, president of the local development company Avalon Group, said there’s been a recent “unprecedented collaboration” among local housing and environmental groups and numerous developers to draft a version of the bill that works for all parties and wouldn’t create any “unintended consequences” or dissuade future projects.
Those stakeholders have been holding marathon meetings and are trying to reach an agreement before the deadline Thursday to put Bill 2 on the agenda for the council’s next meeting.
“We’re almost there, we’re not quite there yet,” Camp said.
Most of the council members who were available for interviews on Bill 2, including Ann Kobayashi, Joey Manahan and Kymberly Pine, acknowledged their concerns about letting it advance toward a final reading when developers were still voicing so much opposition.
However, Councilman Ron Menor said he believed the measure should have stayed on the agenda.
”I understand the bill raised difficult issues and needed more discussions,” but the place for those discussions should have been the hearing, Menor said last week.
He chairs the council’s zoning and planning committee that had recently approved Bill 2 to advance to a second reading before the full council. Menor said he wanted the measure to pass that reading.
Bill 2 is important to help guide future development in Honolulu, he said, and he wants it to stay in play.
The younger Hawaii’s residents get, the more they eschew car ownership, state data shows.
“It would help to establish policies that will encourage the use of alternate modes of transportation, with less reliance on the use of automobiles,” Menor said. “By encouraging greater use of alt modes … the city would also be addressing the significant issue of climate change.”
Notably, Bill 2 looks to lift the minimum parking requirements in urban neighborhoods and leave it up to developers to decide how many parking spaces they want to include based on the market.
Building those spaces on Oahu is not cheap. A recent study from the social investment firm Ulupono Initiative found that it costs developers as much as $55,000 to build the required parking for an affordable high-rise housing rental unit under the city’s existing land-use laws. (That’s for 1.3 spaces per rental unit, according to the study.)
Much of those costs to build parking are then passed on to tenants, who cover them as a significant chunk of their monthly rent, the study found.
Meanwhile, however, 43% of the island’s households own no more than a single vehicle, according to the local clean-energy nonprofit Blue Planet Foundation. Most of those are low-income households, the foundation added in its Bill 2 testimony.
Giving developers flexibility on how much parking to include could help reduce housing costs on an island already facing an affordable housing crisis, community advocates say.
Generally, local developers don’t have a problem with that added flexibility, based on their written Bill 2 testimony.
However, they strongly oppose the provision that requires they “unbundle” ownership of the spaces from the residential units they build. The policy aims to give buyers more flexibility on whether to include parking in their purchase, as well as to make more efficient use of those spaces.
Developer D.R. Horton said the unbundling provision would not help reduce the cost of housing, and that it would adversely affect residential buyers who still wanted to lease the parking in those buildings outside of their mortgage payment. It would force them to pay more, and those payments would reduce their borrowing power for a mortgage, the company said in its Sept. 1 written testimony.
Nonetheless, scores of individual residents submitted testimony pushing for the bill and its policies to advance.
“Honolulu has a great opportunity to move our traffic, parking, and modes of transportation forward into something that makes it easier to get out of our vehicles,” Steven Mazur wrote in his testimony ahead of the hearing. “We should not develop our island in (a) way that forces (us) to use our precious space for cars when we know the need for parking will change in the not-so-distant future.”
Officials with the city’s Planning and Permitting Department declined to comment until they’ve finished working on revisions of Bill 2.
However, in an Aug. 20 letter, DPP Director Kathy Sokugawa told Menor that planners had been holding weekly meetings since May with the Land Use Research Foundation of Hawaii, or LURF, a trade association that represents developers and landowners.
City planners also met or at least communicated with local advocates for affordable housing and better transportation, Sokugawa added in her letter.
LURF officials declined to comment through the association’s executive director, David Arakawa. However, council members including Joey Manahan said they had met with LURF on the matter as well as developers working on projects in his Kalihi district, including Kamehameha Schools and Stanford Carr Development.
“The developers and others didn’t want to see it go forward, and that was concern enough for me,” Manahan said last week. “It didn’t seem like it could get worked out.”
The bill is slated to lapse Oct. 11 unless the council takes action earlier to extend it.
“In terms of sustainability there’s few things more important than planning and design. If you get the urban planning right then so many other problems go away,” Cooney said. “It makes a ton of sense.”