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State lawmaker seeks alternatives to OHA residential development in Kakaʻako

OHA Kakaako Makai.JPG
Office of Hawaiian Affairs
A concept drawing from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' proposal for Kakaʻako Makai, or Hakuone.

State Sen. Sharon Moriwaki is calling for a “meeting of the minds” over a bill that would reverse a ban on residential development in Kaka’ako Makai, an Oʻahu area in her district.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs began a public relations campaign last year to rename the area Hakuone. It was the first step in asking lawmakers to give them rights to develop residential units in Kaka’ako Makai. OHA also launched a media campaign to change public opinion about the area.

OHA accepted the Kakaʻako land from the state in 2012 as part of a settlement for ceded lands revenue — with the idea it would have to lobby the Legislature to get the zoning changed. In a step in that direction, a proposed bill would allow the Hawai‘i Community Development Authority to approve residential development on the land.

Many who opposed the bill at a hearing last week said residential development could threaten the last open public shoreline in urban Honolulu.

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Hawaiʻi State Senate
FILE - Sen. Sharon Moriwaki, chair of the Committee on Labor and Technology, at a hearing on Feb. 8, 2023.

Moriwaki and House Speaker Scott Saiki, who also represents the area, wrote a column in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this past weekend outlining their concerns.

"OHA wants specific parcels to go up to 400 feet, which would be a series of 40-story buildings. Setting aside whether that’s a good idea from a land-use perspective, this would mean the Legislature would be doing spot zoning, and would open the doors for any landowner from anywhere in Hawaii, to come to the Legislature for the same treatment, whether it makes sense or whether there is neighborhood opposition. It would be a very bad precedent," they wrote.

"One option is to reopen the settlement agreement and negotiate in good faith a new package comprised of funds and an exchange of conducive developable land that will put OHA on a faster track to reach its fiduciary, housing and other goals for their beneficiaries," they continued.

Moriwaki told The Conversation that lawmakers and other stakeholders should be getting together to work on more appropriate housing solutions rather than trying to build on contaminated land.

She said the ground beneath the paved surfaces in the area still contains toxic waste and disturbing the soil could cause those chemicals to seep into other areas, and potentially into the water.

"It's not an appropriate use of the land. We need to find solutions that work. And I don't think it's been thought out that far," she told The Conversation. "It's been estimated that there's about 1.56 million cubic yards of soil and ash underneath the protective covering there."

"What I've told my colleagues is that it's premature, you really need to look at what the community is saying, but also need to look at the facts. We have to clean it up, either remove it or keep it that way, and find another solution," Moriwaki said.

"On the mauka side, Howard Hughes, Kamehameha Schools, they have big parcels of land... and they had to go before HCDA, and they had to do an EIS before HCDA would entertain review of their master plan. So that is really what has to happen before any discussion on changing the law," she said.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs
A screenshot of OHA's proposed development of land parcels in Kakaʻako Makai.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 13, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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