The public has until 5 p.m. on Monday to provide testimony to the State Land Use Commission on the up-zoning of 97 acres of agricultural lands, next to Kapaa Middle School, to an urban center zoning designation to accommodate the building of 769 new residential units called Hokua Place. Here is what you should know:
First of all, Kauai does not actually have a housing shortage. As stated in both the Hokua Place Draft Environmental Impact Statement and the county’s General Plan, we actually have a high vacancy rate when it comes to housing. This means a house is largely unoccupied for a good portion of the year (as in second home or investment property), or it is an illegal transient vacation rental (TVR), so considered unoccupied until otherwise shown to be in violation of the law, and in any case not in the inventory pool for long-term rentals (one of our areas where we do have major housing shortage).
Additionally, as of today, there are 661 houses for sale on the MLS. That does not include for-sale-by-owner listings, or “FSBOs.” Not only that, currently, an approximate 41 percent of residential sales on this island are either to mainlanders or foreigners. So what is missing from the mix is affordable housing — low- and middle-income housing (including special groups like the elderly and farm workers). This is the landscape we are working with.
Now, Hokua Place developers want to add 769 residential units to the mix with a price point starting at $650,000, with the qualifier that these prices are subject to change. If affordable housing means that the cost of housing is no more than 30 percent of the total household income, then $650K is beyond the reach of low- and middle-income families, even when many of these individuals have multiple jobs just to make ends meet. The net effect is we are continuing to build houses primarily for mainlanders and foreigners — is this who we should be converting our agricultural lands into urban lands for?
The second issue is lack of infrastructure to support this level of development on the Eastside. First, let’s look at wastewater treatment.
If Hokua Place was a development like Princeville, they would have their own wastewater treatment plant. However, Hokua Place wants to hook up to the Wailua wastewater treatment plant.
Yes, Wailua has the capacity, but the infrastructure for the treatment plant is old, outdated and malfunctioning. In fact, the County Council is now considering funding to update the Wailua facility, even though it is in a flood zone and will be highly susceptible to sea level rise as shown by the state’s new SLR report. And remember, this is just one of three new developments coming online on the Eastside which will be putting demands on infrastructure.
Which leads to the next issue: traffic. We have a very limited road network, with a major traffic squeeze between Kealia and Wailua bridge. Depending on how one interprets the DEIS put out by the developers, Hokua Place will either add an additional 1,047 or 1,900 vehicle trips per hour/per day in the Kealia-to-Wailua squeeze, along with an equal number of new units and corresponding vehicles coming from the three other new developments.
In the final analysis, if a developer truly wants to add affordable housing to the mix (which they will want to do along with market-based development), then it makes most sense to do this in Lihue for the following reasons: 1) sufficient infrastructure already exists to support new development, 2) that is where the majority of the jobs are on Kauai, so why not eliminate the traffic problem by putting housing and jobs in proximity to one another? 3) it is much easier to get to “affordable” if you are working within an existing infrastructure that can support more development, and 4) finally, using an “infill” or a smart growth model will increase the density and attractiveness of Lihue and prevent sprawl and spillover onto agricultural lands and open space.
The net effect is that with good planning, Lihue could be a much more livable/likable town and offer up the kind of housing Kauai truly needs. Eastsiders (and even North Shore folks passing through Kapaa) will have a less severely impacted quality of life, controlled sprawl and preservation of agricultural lands for future generations.
If you care about a smart growth approach to future land development on Kauai, please let the State Land Use Commission know by 5 p.m. on Monday that more development on the Eastside does not constitute smart growth. Email your comments about Hokua Place to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Walton is a resident of Kapaa.