Affordable housing is at crisis levels. Lihue is a good place to increase density and create affordable housing. But, in my humble opinion (IMHO) Bill No. 2687 is not ready to be passed into law.
Bill No. 2687, introduced by Councilmember Arthur Brun is back on the Kauai County Council agenda today, after passing out of the Planning Committee unanimously last week.
The underlying concept of increasing the density along Rice Street in Lihue, I strongly believe, is a good one. However, as the measure is now being presented it is fraught with problems, unanswered questions and unintended consequences.
Without amendments to ensure that the intent of the Council is achieved and that affordable housing is actually developed in this area, Bill No. 2687 is simply a huge gift to the landowners.
The Kauai County Council is poised to increase the future number of allowable dwelling units in the Lihue Rice Street corridor by approximately 2,800 units. This is essentially doubling the existing allowable density property owners are now permitted to construct. It equates to a transfer of wealth to those owners of $50,000,000 to $100,000,000 or more (@$20,000 to $40,000 per unit). Argue with the math if you like, but the increase in property values as a result of the granting of increased density that will become a property entitlement (as in forever) will add significant value.
It seems that the public deserves to know exactly who is benefiting from this incredibly generous gift and what the public benefit may be? Councilmember and mayoral candidate Derek Kawakami has recused himself from all meetings involving Bill No. 2687, so it is presumed that he and/or his family will at least have some benefit from this measure if passed into law by his colleagues. However, no description of the degree of potential benefits has been publicly offered nor is it clear what other property owners will reap the rewards of the increased property values that will inevitably result from the increased density. My guess is that Councilmember Kawakami is probably just one of many owners in the area and is not the primary beneficiary of the up-zoning, but it would seem to be in everyone’s best interest if this was publicly clarified.
Adding another future 2,800 dwelling units to the “unbuilt inventory” that already exists islandwide, without some measures to ensure that homes are actually developed in our lifetime, does nothing for our housing shortage except increase the land bank currently held by already wealthy property owners.
The Kauai General Plan states that we presently have an inventory of partially or currently entitled development projects that could add nearly 6,000 housing units island-wide. Why are these projects not “fast tracked” or “incentivized” or otherwise moved forward?
To make matters even worse, the additional proposed 2,800 units for the Rice Street area will combine with an already existing 2,644 units also located in Lihue that likewise, are “entitled” but not developed, the majority of which are owned by Grove Farm.
More “entitled” units will not automatically translate into the development of new housing (affordable or otherwise). This will only happen if the Kauai County Council amends the bill to require it, or at minimum to greatly encourage or incentivize the needed development. Just giving density without attached performance requirements, will not accomplish the task.
Yes, we need to reward landowners who create housing for local residents but we need to ensure that housing will in fact be constructed, rather than remain a perpetually unrealized promise that may or may not be fulfilled in our lifetime.
The reality presented by the Planning Director last week, further limits the potential good this bill would have on the housing shortage. He stated that though passing the bill would “entitle” potentially up to 2,800 new dwelling units, existing “constraints to development” (water and sewer availability), would limit the likely impacts to about 250 units. He went on to point out that in the area to be impacted by Bill 2687, many of the lots are small and would not have to comply with the 30 percent affordable requirement.
I encourage readers to review the facts, watch the online video of the meeting held last week on the issue, and make up their own minds.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.