Home is where the land is

  • Photo courtesy Latham Woodward

    Latham Woodward is proposing to build 30 single-occupancy rental homes in Lawai.

  • Photo courtesy Latham Woodward

    A plot map shows the potential for low-income rental housing on 6.8 acres in Lawai.

LAWAI — A nearly 7-acre Lawai property stands zoned for construction of four additional luxury houses. However, developers have proposed to work with county and state officials to instead provide more than 30 low-income affordable housing rentals on the property northeast of the intersection of Lauoho and Waha Roads.

“Due to the location and development costs, these would have to be higher end just to make the project make sense,” said Latham Woodward, LLC Member Hanapepe Partners. “But our feeling is that this is not the best or highest possible use for the property.”

He hopes to get the county to approve another zoning change.

“We just thought we would try to explore getting the zoning changed even again to see if we could get the county behind us,” Woodward said. “It’s a long hard journey, but I’m approaching it on many fronts.”

Woodward believes the state has a number of challenging issues right now: stagnation in wage growth, increasing costs of living, an over-abundance of vacation rentals and a dwindling population of eligible workers for medium- level jobs.

“All of these things can be seen as inherently linked to one another,” Woodward said. “The only real solution is to provide more and better housing to a greater, and lower earning, populace.”

The proposed 6.8-acre development would include a minimum of 30 small single-occupant rentals — roughly 20-by-10 or 30-by-10 in size — each with one bedroom and one bathroom. According to Woodward, the units would be prefabricated off -ite, most likely on the Mainland, and transported for installation on a pre-poured slab complete with connections for water, sewer and electrical.

“It’s 100 percent self-funded right now,” Woodward said. “We’re just looking at these options, because the county is basically forcing our hand to build luxury units to make the property pay off and to make it work.”

“You’re talking about an $8 million build-out for four homes, and that does nothing for the public good,” he added. “It would probably make the situation worse in some respects. The landscaping business that’s currently there would probably get forced off the property and make some people unemployed.”

Woodward is a San Francisco Bay area resident who used to own a house in Hanapepe. He went to high school with his partners, Brian Muller and Lawai’s Garrett Scales, who runs the Southside Landscaping business. He says Scales is concerned about getting squeezed from the market because his employees don’t have any place to live.

“Firmly 40 percent of all the houses on Kauai are vacation rentals now,” he said.

For the proposed housing project, a single-access point and parking area would serve the entire property along with a centralized “community clubhouse,” currently the only house on the property.

Other green practices they hope to implement include using renewable sources to build, lightly insulating units to cut down on air- conditioning costs, and growing a community garden for all residents. If costs allow, they also plan to develop a solar power field there as well.

“We’re probably looking at a budget of $3 million to $6 million to do the whole build-out, and that’s just for the 30 units,” Woodward said. “We would anticipate taking profits from this and rolling it into another affordable housing situation.”

In two weeks, Woodward is meeting in Honolulu to request government funding and develop partnerships.

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