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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, September 6, 2001

Height variance approved for Kapi'olani building

By John Duchemin
Advertiser Staff Writer

A developer yesterday won approval for zoning exemptions that would let him build a 70-foot-tall, mall-sized interior design retail center on Kapi'olani Boulevard.

The Hawai'i Community Development Authority unanimously approved Thomas Sorensen's request for exemption from zoning laws that bar buildings over 45 feet tall makai of Kapi'olani.

Sorensen plans to build a four-story center, with the Inspiration furniture store, one of the project's key backers, as its main tenant. On a nearby plot across Waimanu Street, Sorensen is proposing to build a six-story parking garage with attached commercial space.

Sorensen indicated that several obstacles remain before the center can become a reality.

Aside from Inspiration, which wants to move to Kapi'olani Boulevard from its Pearlridge store, no other retailer or restaurant has committed to the project.

Inspiration spokesman Peter Skaaning said project backers have talked with national retailers including Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma to drum up interest.

The project also needs financing, Sorensen said. He has invested in the property but said he would need to raise additional money for construction.

An aging municipal sewer line running under the property could be troublesome, Sorensen said. The line probably needs to be replaced, he said, and this could delay the center's construction. Officials have said they hope to start construction in October.

A neighboring property owner also objected to the state authority's approval of the zoning exemption. Aside from building height, Sorensen also won exemption from rules requiring 15-foot-wide sidewalks and preserving the viewplane on Kapi'olani Boulevard.

"The proposed modifications make a general mockery of open space and consistent height limitations in this area," wrote Steven Sofos, president of Sofos Realty Corp., in a letter testifying on behalf of the Dee Zobel Revocable Trust, which owns 30,000 square feet of land next to the planned parking structure. "It is difficult to imagine justification for any modification to the current governing rules."

The exemptions were recommended by staff members of the development authority who said the economic and aesthetic benefits of the center outweigh zoning concerns.

Interior designer Michael Colgan testified in favor of the project, saying it would be unique in Hawai'i as a one-stop shop for high-end home furnishings.