A long-delayed mixed-use development in Hilo inched closer to fruition last Thursday after the Windward Planning Commission approved several changes to the project plan.
Representatives for Wailani Development LLC submitted applications for 11 changes to a development to be located on a 171-acre parcel of land between Komohana Street and Mohouli Street in Hilo.
The development, which has been in some stage of planning since 2009, promises a medical campus, commercial space, residential units and an extension of Ponahawai Street to Mohouli Street.
While many of the proposed changes to the project plan were uncontroversial, other changes triggered lengthy discussion among the Planning Commission members and Wailani Development president Peter Matsuura.
Two of the changes to the project plan involve rebalancing the development’s residential space and commercial space, increasing the maximum number of residential units from 518 to 700, and reducing the maximum commercial area from 480,000 square feet to 420,000 square feet. Matsuura said the changes were made at the request of Hawaii County following the Kilauea eruption, citing concerns about a lack of available housing for the displaced.
Those changes were accepted and approved by the Planning Commission without much debate. More contentious were proposed modifications to conditions that required curb, gutter and sidewalk installations throughout the development.
Matsuura said Wailani Development hoped to remove the requirement to install curbs, gutters and sidewalks in order to keep construction costs down. Instead, Matsuura proposed that Wailani Development install curbs, gutters and sidewalks on the first 500 feet of the Ponahawai extension at Komohana Street, where the development’s commercial space would be located, with the option to install more at a later date.
After significant discussion, the Planning Commission denied that proposal, instead siding with a version proposed by Planning Director Michael Yee. Yee’s proposal was similar to Wailani Development’s, but instead required Wailani Development to install curbs, gutters and sidewalks eventually, rather than leaving it optional.
Matsuura said having to add curbs, gutters and sidewalks would not be “terribly expensive,” but lamented that the added cost of construction would be transferred directly to home buyers in the new development.
Another request, to limit access to adjacent developments only to emergency vehicles, was approved despite opposition from the Planning Department.
Matsuura said the routes into adjacent subdivisions would likely be permanently opened to residents at some point in the future regardless.
Wailani Development also requested to remove a requirement that all utilities in the development be provided through underground infrastructure. Matsuura described the cost of having to install underground power lines as a “project killer” that he had agreed to early in the project’s development without full awareness of the associated costs.
“It’s been a very long and expensive learning process,” Matsuura said. “We didn’t realize how financially onerous some of the conditions are.”
The commission approved the utility requirement change without debate.
The commission also approved a change that would allow the planning director to make changes to the project master plan directly, rather than go through a longer approval process.
At the request of the county Planning Department, the commission also approved a series of “bookkeeping” changes to the plan for the sake of clarity and consistency with modern standards.
Among all the changes approved Thursday was a five-year time extension before the mandatory construction start date. Nonetheless, Matsuura said he hoped the answers he received at the meeting would allow the project to begin construction sooner.
“The developers need to pencil out their profitable projects, and they couldn’t do that when the conditions were unclear,” Matsuura said.
A handful of people testified about the project, nearly all of whom were supportive of it — the sole opponent of the project did so on grounds of Hawaiian sovereignty. Among the testifiers was Harold Wallace, chief executive officer of the Bay Clinic, which would be operating the medical campus within the development.
“One of the strongest barriers for treatment is transportation,” Wallace said, explaining that a centralized campus would allow residents to obtain treatment easily and efficiently.
Matsuura said he also hopes the development will provide an opportunity for local businesses, rather than national business chains, to prosper.
“I’m much happier losing money helping local businesses than getting rich helping chains,” Matsuura said.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald