Development will make traffic worse

An Open Letter to the Kauai Planning Commission

Greg Allen of Wailua recently wrote a letter to the editor of The Garden Island. Allen is one of the principal developers behind the proposed Hokua Place housing project, so it is no surprise that he thinks it is a great idea to add housing density to this area.

However, he lives in Wailua and does not have to deal with the entire Kapaa Traffic Crawl every day, like we do. He doesn’t have to inch his way through the traffic circle, the backup on the bypass, or wait patiently for the lights to change at Safeway or Brick Oven Pizza on the Kuhio Highway as he travels south from Kapaa or points north.

For him, it is a great idea to add 769 housing units, and 1,500 plus cars, to the daily traffic grind. I can’t blame him. If I had hundreds of millions of dollars of development plans on the line, I might think the same way — but I hope I would first ask myself, “What will this do to our community?”

The Hokua Place development plans call for “86 single-family lots and 57 townhouse units to be built on 97 acres of land.” A more revealing description would be 86 single-family lots and 683 condo units in 57 high rise townhouses. That is 769 family homes. Assuming the current Kauai average of 2.99 persons per household from the last census, we are talking approximately 2,300 people added to our local Kapaa population.

According to the county’s own “Multimodal Transportation Plan,” Kauai has the dubious distinction of being the only Hawaiian island with more than one registered vehicle per person.That would be 2,300 plus vehicles. But let’s just assume a lower number — say two cars per household. That is still 1,538 vehicles added to the Kapa’a crawl every morning and evening. When you add in the additional traffic from the two already approved resort developments between Longs and the Coconut Marketplace, not to mention the planned rebuild of the iconic Coco Palms Resort, you can expect some significant waits in traffic. Personally, I would recommend trading in your car for a camper van. You will need it.

Yes, thesstate and the county traffic engineers have plans to improve the traffic flow. I have attended many of their meetings over the years. Oddly enough, the current plans are just like the ones they discussed two years ago, four years ago, six years ago … you get the picture. Road and highway improvements are expensive and most of the funding never seems to make its way off of Oahu.

But the Hokua Place contractors say they will build a new road from the bypass to the homesteads. This will help at the traffic circle, but it won’t do a thing for the backups on the bypass where it connects to Kuhio Highway. It is still additional traffic. The traffic almost backs up to the traffic circle now. Add in more cars and you are building a parking lot, not a road.

I recently spoke to one of the developers of Hokua Place while waiting outside to enter a Planning Commission meeting. A nice individual who seems honestly intent on providing housing for our growing population, although his idea of “affordable” housing is far more expensive than most residents can afford.

His argument about the traffic issue went along the lines of (and I am paraphrasing) “Yes, the traffic is unsustainable and Hokua Place will make it worse, but the only way to get the county and state to take action on the traffic situation is to make it so bad that they have to act.” My answer to him was that this was akin to jumping out of an airplane without a parachute hoping someone will pass you one on the way down.

Lord help us all if we ever have to evacuate the area in an emergency, because this is not just a traffic issue. Since Kapaa houses the greater portion of the island’s population, much of it within the low lying designated Tsunami Flood Zone, this traffic corridor is an integral part of the Tsunami Evacuation Plan. Having inadequate and congested roads on a daily basis is one thing. Having them during a major disaster is another. The potential for loss of human life is staggering.

Does Kauai need affordable housing? Sure it does. And if the infrastructure were in place here in Kapaa — better roads, larger sewer treatment facilities, appropriate water supply, and sustainable agriculture, I would say “go for it!” But they are not. Nor are most of the proposed units what we would call “affordable” by kama’aina standards.

According to the county’s own 2015 Infrastructure Assessment (part of the Gereral Plan Update) by 2035 the East Side of Kauai will have a deficit of wastewater treatment of 1.47 million gallons a day and a fresh well water deficit of 4.12 million gallons a day — by far the worst shortfall on the entire island.

So why did the County Planning Commissioners overturn the decision of the Planning Department staff to keep the land zoned “Agriculture” and permit the Hokua Place project to go forward?

Well one reason could be the additional $1.7 million plus in pre-exemption residential real property taxes it will generate annually. The 2015 estimated retail value of the development is $276 million, including the 86 single family homes and 683 condo units.

That was using 2015 dollars. Real estate prices on Kauai have risen significantly in the last two years and if Hokua Place follows the current trend of developments on Kauai, few of those “affordable” units will ever reach the market place at actually affordable prices.

So you are talking a good deal of money for the developers and whole lot of new revenue for the tax collectors.

Before we start building more developments, increasing the traffic, noise, pollution, and stress on our limited infrastructure, we may want to look at what happened to our existing affordable rental units. Take a look on-line at AirBnB or HomeAway (Vacation Rentals By Owner). I was shocked by how many homes were available for short term rental in areas outside the designated vacation rental zones on Kauai.

Is it possible that money is more important here on Kauai than our quality of life?


Bill Peterson is a resident of Kapaa.


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