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Mānoa residents say there are 'too many issues' with Banyan Court project

Seth Kamemoto Brenda Lam Manoa Banyan Court.jpg
Casey Harlow / HPR
Mānoa residents Seth Kamemoto (left) and Brenda Lam (right) are very concerned with the plans of a proposed 288-unit affordable rental development called Mānoa Banyan Court.

A compromised waterway, trafficked streets and a potential "rain bomb" are all on the list of concerns for several Mānoa residents who are boycotting the rising plan to build affordable housing in the back of the valley.

Ongoing disputes with district representatives and community members resurfaced last month as a draft assessment of the Banyan Court project asked for public comment.

Brenda Lam is one Mānoa resident who is using her professional expertise as a retired landscape architect in an effort to raise awareness for why she believes the housing project is problematic to the community.

"This is the wrong project to build on this site, because there's too many issues with the physical site which makes it expensive to build on — unstable," said Lam.

The Lin Yee Chung Association, which owns the property and maintains the Mānoa Chinese Cemetery, has proposed clearing at least eight acres of forested area to build four three-story buildings with adjacent parking lots and sidewalks.

Lam said she isn't against affordable housing — however, her concerns lie with the project's plans and how it aligns with the physical project site.

The Woodlawn Ditch

She stated that one of the big obstacles with it is that development will run through Woodlawn Ditch. While the ditch is mostly dry today, it is part of a large stream and waterway system that's been around for centuries.

The valley was used for agriculture before the 1950s, due to the consistent rainfall and subsequent streams. Farmers then created ditches that would help direct water flow. Despite the housing boom throughout the 1900s in the valley, a majority of those streams and ditch systems remain.

"It has significant elevation change going from where it enters at the top of the property and exits out on the Diamond Head side at Lower Road. It's a major flood waterway," said Lam. "And calling it a dry ditch doesn't seem accurate because a lot of water goes through it."

A photo of the Woodlawn Stream ditch that Lam and Kamemoto state will affect the development of Banyan Court.

Lam estimates the ditch is 40 feet wide and nearly 20 feet deep in certain parts.

The comment period for the draft environmental assessment (DEA) ended last month, which included numerous reports to address environmental, infrastructure and other impacts the project may have. It also has plans of the expected dimensions and layout of the housing development.

The assessment estimated about 100 inches of rain to fall on the proposed site. Additionally, the submitted plans show much of the forested area will be cleared to make way for development.

For nearby resident and software engineer Seth Kamemoto, he's concerned that clearing the forested area will compromise the ditch — exposing the property and nearby residences to more runoff and a failure of the ditch.

"The Woodlawn Ditch is only stabilized by these trees. So when they clear it, even the waterway itself becomes somewhat compromised," he said.

Kamemoto said he believes the environmental assessment is flawed because the reports are done by experts hired by the property owner.

Projected 'rain bombs'

He said one example is the drainage assessment, which determines the impact of rainfall. While he acknowledges the report does follow the law in its calculation, it doesn't take into account "rain bomb" events — that have flooded parts of the valley in 2014 and 2021.

In addition to not calculating the impact of a "rain bomb" event, Kamemoto is also concerned about construction time and the impacts of rain.

The project is broken up into four phases, which Kamemoto estimates could take between four to five years. While the project has detention basins to catch rain runoff, he believes there are issues with the planned phases if heavy rain were to occur.

"The arborist report called for a 10-foot clearance from the stream. That was so that, I think, is to reduce the risk of trees falling into the stream. But that will destabilize those banks," said Kamemoto.

"So in the report, it recommended stream stabilization measures, but that was never discussed in the actual DEA . . . The DEA actually explicitly said that they were not going to do any construction along, or in, the Woodlawn Ditch, except for maybe a safety barrier."


Both Kamemoto and Lam reviewed the draft environmental assessment. Lam even created a scale model of the plans submitted by the Lin Yee Chung Association.

"The current design of the project, they have buildings 200 feet long, 150 feet wide footprint," said Lam.

"Buildings located within five to eight feet of the top of the ditch. They have a parking lot that is literally on the edge of the ditch as it's shown currently. "

Lam told HPR when she presented her scale model at a neighborhood board meeting, the president of the association, Charles Wong, stated it was misinformation and wouldn't answer her concerns.

"They told me directly to my face that I was misrepresenting their project. I asked one of the trustees hoping to have an interaction . . . they refused to speak to me. Actually asked me to leave, and we will not speak to you," Lam said.

Charles Wong told HPR the association took community concerns into account and made the footprint of the buildings smaller. However, Lam contends that the plans are still roughly the same size, but the room layouts are smaller.

According to Lam, another inconsistency in the plans is the amount of trees the project intends to keep. The DEA states Mānoa Banyan Court will keep roughly 35 trees to maintain green space. However, Lam's scale model of the submitted plans shows less than 10 trees would be able to stay.

Despite that, Lam maintains the project is not right for the proposed site.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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