A master-planned community of 3,500 homes in Central Oahu will move forward after the Honolulu City Council approved a zoning change Wednesday for 576 acres situated between the Waipio Costco and Kipapa Gulch.
The vote was 9-0, with council members Carol Fukunaga, Ann Kobayashi, Joey Manahan and Ron Menor voting "yes" with reservations.
Click here to see Andrew Pereira's report.
Known as Koa Ridge, the development has sparked fierce debate on whether developer Castle and Cooke has done enough to alleviate traffic congestion.
Under a unilateral agreement with the city, Castle and Cooke is required to complete a majority of traffic mitigation measures at a cost of $100 million before the first resident moves into a Koa Ridge home in 2016. One of the measures includes building a new H2 Freeway interchange at the Pineapple Road overpass.
The Sierra Club has been battling Koa Ridge for years, and says the project's traffic improvement plan will do little to ease morning and evening gridlock on the H2.
"So, you'll get to H2 five minutes faster and spend an extra hour stuck in traffic on the freeway. Where is the sense in that?" said Anthony Aalto, a member of the Sierra Club's Oahu Executive Committee.
Castle and Cooke Vice President of Residential Operations Bruce Barrett told reporters any further improvements to the H2 would likely be a deal killer.
"We're really limited because it wouldn't make the project feasible," said Barrett.
As part of its unilateral agreement with the city, Castle and Cooke will subsidize 90 percent of the cost of one bus pass for each Koa Ridge home for one year. However, getting commuters to use public transportation may prove difficult. Barrett admitted he uses a car to get around town, not the bus.
"I guess I just associate myself with driving my car. I'm guilty," said Barrett.
Under its agreement with the city, Castle and Cooke will classify 30 percent of the homes at Koa Ridge, or about 1,000 units, as affordable.
Close to 50 people testified before council members took their final vote on the zoning change. The division between those for and against Koa Ridge was evenly split. Supporters included members of various organizations representing the construction industry.
Menor said that under the city's affordable-housing guidelines, Koa Ridge units that are sold at 140 percent of the area median income would still be out of reach for many Oahu residents.
"They can sell a unit at, say, between $650,000 and $700,000 and qualify them as affordable," said Menor. "That's not affordable housing, that's market-price housing."
Barrett said other units in Koa Ridge will be priced under the median price of a home on Oahu, which currently stands at $640,000.
"Family of two, family of four in terms of a price range in today's market, you're in the $300,000 price range, $400,000 price range," said Barrett.
Menor was by far the most outspoken critic of Koa Ridge on the nine-member Council, but in the end voted to approve the project. KITV4 asked Menor if the Council has become a rubber stamp for large developments.
"I definitely did not rubber-stamp, I asked a lot of tough questions," Menor responded. "My preference would've been really to defer a final vote on this project."