Denby Fawcett: OHA's Plan To Build High-Rises At Kakaako Makai Stalls In The Senate - Honolulu Civil Beat

Power local, independent journalism with a gift today and help us reach our goal of $250,000 by December 31.

Thanks to 674 donors, we've raised $100,000 so far!


Power local, independent journalism with a gift today and help us reach our goal of $250,000 by December 31.

Thanks to 674 donors, we've raised $100,000 so far!


About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Critics of the development worried about environmental effects, among other concerns.


The Senate Ways and Means Committee has shelved the Office of Hawaiian Affairsʻ proposal to build three residential towers up to 400 feet tall on oceanside land OHA owns at Kakaako makai.

The committee’s chair, Donovan Dela Cruz, said Thursday that he decided to hold the bill this year after the House made it clear that it was unwilling to consider the measure.

Instead, Dela Cruz inserted in another Senate bill $65 million OHA was requesting for repairs to aging and damaged oceanfront revetments on the Kakaako makai land.

“At least this way OHA will be left with something, the funding it requested.” Dela Cruz told Civil Beat in an interview.

Rendering of planned Kakaako Makai development OHA
An architectural rendering of OHA’s planned Kakaako makai development. (Office of Hawaiian Affairs)

Senate Bill 1235 also would grant OHA $6 million to do an environmental impact statement on the proposed Kakaako makai development it calls Hakuone.

Critics of OHAʻs quest to build the residential towers and other commercial ventures were concerned that OHA was unable to fully outline how it would address the effects of climate change on the oceanfront property. Concerns also were raised about the possible impacts of the constructionʻs disturbance of toxins on what was once an industrial waste and garbage dump.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee also put $13 million in the bill to assist OHA with its plans to preserve the land around Kukaniloko Birthstones in Wahiawa, a site that preserves a birthplace of royalty on Oahu.

Kukaniloko Birthing Stones, birthplace of Hawaiian royalty located in Wahiawa. 20 sept 2016
Kukaniloko Birthing Stones in Wahiawa mark the birthplace of Hawaiian royalty. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016)

In 2012, OHA acquired 511 acres surrounding the sacred site in order to provide a buffer zone to protect it from developments encroaching in the future.

Dela Cruz said this bill with the funding that OHA wants might have a better chance of passing in the Legislature than the original bill asking for permission to build the condo high-rises.

In a text, OHA Chair Carmen Hulu Lindsey said, “We greatly appreciate what Senator Dela Cruz is trying to do. And we thank him.”

“We are currently waiting for word from the House,” she wrote. “That ball is in Speaker Scott Saikiʻs court and based on our ongoing discussions with him and the community we still hope for a positive outcome this session.”

Saiki said the Legislature respects OHA and its mission and Hawaiian beneficiaries.

“I have offered OHA in the past and offer OHA again a chance to work together to renegotiate its settlement with the state to potentially include a cash buyout, a land exchange or both — but not residential towers in Kakaako makai,” he said in a telephone interview.

OHA Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Carmen Hulu Lindsey speaks to media about results from a recent forensic audit.
OHA Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Carmen Hulu Lindsey, shown at the podium, expressed hope the high-rise development project could be revived. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

He has long been opposed to residential towers in Kakaako makai.

“It’s an issue of planning,” he previously told Hawaii Public Radio. “I’ve always felt that Kakaako makai is one of the last remaining parcels of land that can be used as open space, as park space, that can provide ocean access for all residents on our island.”

Opponents expressed relief that OHAʻs proposal was stalled, at least for now..

“Residential development in Kakaako makai is very unpopular. There are also the environmental concerns that driving high-rise piles into a former dump site could contaminate the underlying fresh water lens,” said Wayne Takamine, the chairman of the Kakaako Makai Community Planning Advisory Council.

The group has pressed to keep Kakaako makai open for public recreational, commercial, entertainment and educational purposes but not residential development.

Another critical group said it was happy but wary.

“It is not a final solution. OHA can come back next year and ask for the same thing but we would like to work with them to find a better way,“ said Ron Iwami, president of Friends of Kewalos.

OHA’s push this year to get legislative approval for the high-rise towers is an extension of an effort that began after the state gave OHA 30 acres of Kakaako makai land in 2012 to settle a debt of $200 million in ceded land revenues.

OHA agreed to the settlement knowing that the 2006 protective land law would prevent it from building condo towers on the property, yet it hoped to persuade legislators to change the law.

That has not happened. The latest effort is OHA’s fourth try in 11 years to get the restrictions lifted. OHA said its appraisers have found that since it is prohibited from building residential units on the property, the settlement with the state is worth only $91 million, not $200 million.

However, the City and County of Honolulu puts the current tax assessed value of OHA’s Kakaako Makai land at more than $300 million.

OHA is not giving up. On its Hakuone website, the agency urged supporters to sign a petition to ask Saiki to keep the proposal for the Hakuone development with residential towers alive.

Read this next:

Catherine Toth Fox: Want People To Use E-Bikes More? Make The Streets Safer For Cyclists

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Latest Comments (0)

OHA Trustees put themself and the community they supposedly serve in this position when they accepted the valuation of the land exchange. You don't come back 12 years later and demand the state change the land use because you screwed up on the deal. That's called incompetence. OHA should be glad that the state is willing to sit down and renegotiate on the deal because in the real world a private developer would be left to suck it up and deal. But then again, they would have done their due diligence up front and not be in this situation that continues to play out as politics over competence.

wailani1961 · 8 months ago

I’m so confused by OHAs wanting to build high rises on a shoreline. I thought that the Hawaiian people didn’t want big development on shorelines and were into preserving beach access, views, trade wind flow etc. I thought they didn’t want Honolulu to become just another big city like ones on the mainland. I thought they didn’t want to "pave over paradise and put up a parking lot." What the heck? This doesn’t make sense at all. Seems like it’s about money and I thought the Hawaiian people really wanted to preserve Hawaii and keep it free from big developments for financial gain. It seems like some of the projects that the Hawaiian people want to stop and what they don’t want to stop is selective. And it’s confusing. To wit, the telescope atop Mauna Kea. They didn’t want the sacred mountain desecrated by development and they were able to stop that development. Isn't accessible shoreline and beaches just as sacred to them? I mean this with all due respect. It’s just very confusing. They want to build atop an environmentally sensitive area, with the sea rising and this will add to congestion in the neighborhood, blocked views etc etc. Another LA.

MauiAloha · 8 months ago

I realize that Honolulu has a growing population, but does every development have to be high rises in areas with serious environmental concerns? Maybe low-rise housing and open space and find an alternative site for high density housing. Although in fairness to OHA, look at what rich mainlanders have been able to build in Kakaako.

mtf1953 · 8 months ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.