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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Central O'ahu residents criticize development plan

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Concerned Central O'ahu residents spoke out last night in a last-ditch attempt to encourage changes to a development plan that they say lacks solutions to the area's growing problem of crowded schools and traffic.

Laura Brown, a member of the Mililani/Waipi'o/Melemanu Neighborhood Board, testifies against the latest draft of the Central O'ahu Sustainable Communities Plan at a City Council public hearing yesterday at Waikele Elementary School. "We need a plan for infrastructure," she said. At left is Gary Okino, who will be chairman when the new City Council takes office Jan. 2.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

More than 30 community members, including state and city officials, turned out for a City Council public hearing at Waikele Elementary School to voice concerns about the latest draft of the Central O'ahu Sustainable Communities Plan, which affects the region bordering Waiawa, Royal Kunia and Wahiawa and includes the burgeoning Mililani subdivisions.

This was the last community public hearing to discuss the plan, which will be reviewed at 10:30 a.m. today by the city planning committee. Should the plan pass out of committee today, it will be reviewed for final approval on Dec. 4.

The plan, which spans the next 25 years, estimates the area's population will grow from almost 150,000 in 2000 to 173,000 in 2025.

In the original plan, new homes were limited to 11,445. The new draft proposes an additional 9,000 homes, mostly in Koa Ridge and Waiawa. The new figure worries residents who are already struggling with traffic and crowded schools.

"The only thing this plan sustains is the developer's interests," said Laura Brown, 45, mother of three and member of the Mililani/Waipi'o/Melemanu Neighborhood Board. "We need a plan for an infrastructure. We can't just have houses."

(Earlier this year the state Land Use Commission approved a 3,600-home development at Koa Ridge, but only after pressing Castle & Cooke to build schools on a more timely basis to prevent crowding at existing schools.)

The main concern of residents is that the state isn't providing adequate infrastructure, in the form of schools and roadways, to sustain the growth of Central O'ahu.

"The real problem is that nobody has done an environmental assessment of the cumulative impact ... (the development) has on education and traffic," said Richard Poirier, neighborhood board chairman. "They need to look at the larger picture."

Castle & Cooke, the area's primary developer, feels that the plan does account for the building of infrastructure, just not on the time frame demanded by those in the community who are voicing concerns.

"The infrastructure will come, though not before the homes are built," said Alan Arakawa, vice president of development and construction for Castle & Cooke. "Having schools built before homes is just impractical. You could never get the state to fund schools before houses are there."

The plan does require developers to provide their fair share of all costs needed to provide adequate school facilities for children living in their developments. For example, Castle & Cooke provided the land to build Mililani Mauka Elementary School. The cost of building that school was about $36 million.

Residents "want to make sure the schools are built first, they don't want portable classrooms, they don't like multi-tracking," said councilman Gary Okino, who chaired the public meeting. "But those are state issues. It's up to the ... (state Department of Education) to find more efficient ways to provide education."

According the DOE, schools in the Mililani complex are 100 to 110 percent over capacity. The proposed plan does address this, projecting that the state needs to build seven elementary schools, three intermediate schools and two new high schools in Central O'ahu by 2025.

"You can't build homes first, then build the infrastructure when the state has no money," said longtime Mililani resident Noel Araki, 32. "It's not going to happen ... We're just giving the developers a free ticket to build."

Another pressing concern among commuting residents is traffic congestion on freeways and residential roads.

"Our traffic problem is already a nightmare," said Doug Thomas, 55, chairman of the planning committee for the Mililani/Waipi'o/Melemanu Neighborhood Board.

Thomas leaves his Mililani home at 5:30 a.m. to get to his job as a Kaimuki High School teacher on time. The commute takes him half an hour without traffic. But if he leaves at 6:30, he said, he may not make it to school by 8 a.m.

The plan proposes some solutions to the traffic situation, including the widening of high-use roads and building of bike paths. But residents feel that building more homes, which translates to more cars, will only worsen the traffic.

"Traffic is terrible," said Linnel Nishioka, 42, a 12-year resident of Mililani. "And from my experience, it has gotten progressively worse."

Nishioka, the deputy director for the water commission with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said she has tried everything from carpooling to using the Zipper Lane. Nothing has alleviated her frustration.

"I don't see improvements," Nishioka said. "It's a decrease in quality of life when you're on the road for three hours a day."

On another issue, the Board of Water Supply opposed a new addition to the plan that involves the building of a landfill in Central O'ahu, saying potential contamination of the Pearl Harbor aquifer — which provides about 70 percent of the island's drinking water — would cost the state upwards of $300 million. It is requesting the removal of any mention of a landfill in the area.

"The plan doesn't specifically approve a landfill, but (by including the possibility now) it provides the validation in the future to anyone who wants to propose building one," said Cliff Jamile, manager chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply.

The opponents of the development plan said they fear that rapid growth and all the problems that come with it may be inevitable.

"This is really frustrating for us because (the current plan) doesn't benefit the residents," Brown said. "It's destroying our quality of life."

Correction: A quote from Noel K. Araki in a previous version of this story was missing a word. The quote should have read: "You can't build homes first, then build the infrastructure when the state has no money." The story also refers to a $36 million figure, which was the cost to build Mililani Mauka Elementary School. The previous version was unclear what the amount referred to.