At a recent County Council meeting I asked tough questions about the proposed Lima Ola affordable housing project that will build 550 affordable homes over the next 20 years on 75 acres of prime agricultural lands presently cultivated by Kauai Coffee. The land is located in Ele’ele to the east of Kaumuali’i Highway, adjacent to the site where Habitat for Humanity is building 125 homes.
The Housing Agency was asking the council to fast track approval of the project by exempting it from the regular planning process. This meant that instead of two public hearings and specific requirements normally prescribed for residential developments, there would be no public hearing and many requirements would be waived. At Wednesday’s meeting I proposed that there be at least one public hearing. Except for Councilmember Mason Chock, the council rejected my motion.
My questions about Lima Ola were questions any board of directors would have asked about a large project up for approval: Is there enough water? How much experience does the developer have? How much traffic will be generated, especially along the two-lane Kaumualii Highway toward Kalaheo and Lihue? How will those traffic impacts be offset so as to prevent future congestion where traffic is already backing up? How will children safely cross the highway to walk to school?
It is unfortunate that Council Chair Mel Rapozo was so hostile to my questions. My questions did not arise from any opposition to affordable housing but from a desire that any county-initiated affordable housing be the best that it can befor its residents, for neighbors and for the larger community. In other words, it must be well planned. (See JoAnnYukimura.com for details about my support for affordable housing throughout the years.)
Addressing the affordable housing problem is not just about building affordable units. Government has the responsibility to create well-planned, attractive, energy-efficient, walkable and bikeable neighborhoods that lower household utility costs — with solar water heating, for example — and reduce household transportation costs by being located close to jobs and services. That’s why location and details are important.
An example of a quality affordable housing project is Kalepa Village in Hanamaulu. It has been admired by federal and state housing officials because it doesn’t look like the conventional low-income housing. It is beautifully designed and well-kept and has solar water heating. It is across the street from an elementary school and park, close to the beach, on a bus route and close to services. Residents of Kalepa with whom I’ve spoken love living there.
There are several locations close to water and sewers in Waimea that would be ideal for affordable housing. Waimea is one of the most walkable towns on the island. The middle school and high school are a stone’s throw away. So are the library, grocery stores, the hospital, the beach and bus stops. It is much closer to PMRF and the seed companies than Lima Ola.
Rather than locating 675 homes (Lima Ola’s 550-plus and Habitat for Humanity’s 125) in east Ele’ele, it makes more sense to locate some affordable housing at Lima Ola, but also in Waimea, Hanapepe and elsewhere on the Westside, spreading out both the impacts and the benefits. Unfortunately, the County Housing Agency did not systematically identify the best affordable housing sites on the Westside.
The Housing Agency has also stated that Lima Ola is the only affordable housing the county plans to do on the Westside. Even if the county wanted to do more, Lima Ola will consume all of the scarce resources, including state capital improvement (CIP) monies. And how could the county justify doing more Westside projects when Lima Ola is the largest affordable housing project on the island while there are huge needs elsewhere on the island?
Despite my concerns, I voted to approve the proposal because the need for affordable housing is so great. However, 675 affordable homes all in one place, not within safe and easy walking distance of services or schools, and with no diversity of uses (e.g. neighborhood commercial, churches, etc.) due to deed restrictions is not good planning. When we skip good planning and community input, we don’t get the best result. I feel our families deserve the best.
Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura is chair of the Housing and Transportation Committee of the Kauai County Council and a longtime advocate of affordable housing.