LIHUE — It has been four years since County of Kauai officials acquired a 75-arce piece of land in Eleele from the McBryde Sugar Company to plan what some housing officials say is one of the county’s most ambitious affordable housing projects.
But in the years since then, ground hasn’t been broken on the now barren land set aside for the project.
That could change, however, within the next three years as Kauai County Housing Agency officials move forward to conduct studies, refine design plans and apply for permits to get the 550-unit Lima Ola master planned community off the ground. But not everyone agrees on the best path forward for the project.
Some county officials say the current plan to build out 165 single-family or duplex units and 385 multi-family units on the Westside is suitable to address a growing need for affordable housing on Kauai.
Other officials, however, say more planning is needed to ensure that specific elements, such as infrastructure improvements and traffic mitigation measures, will not increase construction costs and affect the affordability of units within the development.
“I know a lot of people are living in Kapaa and Lihue who are working on the Westside or at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, so this would benefit them — this would bring them closer to work,” Councilman Mel Rapozo said. “I think this helps Westside residents. I think there are sometimes three or four families living in a house on the Westside, so this would benefit them.”
About 1,312 new housing units, according to Kauai County Housing Agency statistics, will be needed by 2016. Nearly 70 percent of those homes, or 925 individual units, will be needed to accommodate low- and very low- income families.
The development, which would potentially break ground between 2016 and 2017, according to county housing documents, is intended to accommodate residents whose income is between 80 percent to 140 percent of Kauai County’s median household income.
It would be scaled by the number of people who live in the home. The county’s median household income in general is $70,300, according to 2014 Kauai County Housing Agency data.
Eighty percent of the median housing income for a family of four, for example, is $72,600, while 140 percent of the median income for a family of four would be $98,400. Eighty percent of the single family income would be $50,850, while 140 percent is $68,950.
In all, County Housing Agency Director Kamuela Cobb-Adams estimated that the county has invested about $3.1 million into the project, including $2.69 million to purchase the land and about $130,000 to map out and design the development.
To make the project more feasible, Cobb-Adams said county officials decreased per unit costs by re-engineering the design of the project and eliminating homeowners association fees that can make homeownership difficult.
County housing officials, Cobb-Adams said, are also pursuing partnership opportunities with state, county and federal organizations and searching for a variety of funding sources, such as state and federal grants, to help push the project forward.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura and Councilman Tim Bynum, however, said they were concerned that certain improvements, such as installing a pedestrian underpass or overpass near Laulea Street to bypass the traffic on Kaumualii Highway, could eventually make the project a tough sell.
“I think a smaller, down-scaled project, maybe along the highway, would be better than this huge project,” Yukimura said. “If you look at other places and other opportunities, they could be, in the long run, better. This project should pencil out as an affordable project, but when you start putting in the kinds of things that are going to make it workable, like an underpass, then it starts to fall apart.”
While some improvements are needed to ensure that the development is accessible and energy-efficient community, Cobb-Adams said the main focus is providing homes for as many families as possible.
“We’re trying to make it as green as possible, we’re trying to make it as smart growth as possible, we’re trying to make it as healthy as possible, and we’re trying to make it affordable,” Cobb-Adams said. “Affordability, however, is the No. 1 thing — food and shelter are the biggest issues on this island. From there we can build upon sidewalks and other planning issues.”