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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Developers call for streamlined land-use process

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Housing developers told legislators yesterday that it takes too long to get government approvals and urged them to streamline the land-use process, in part by reducing the role of the state Land Use Commission.

The lack of affordable housing is "a supply-and-demand issue," said Carleton Ching, director of community and governmental relations for Castle & Cooke Homes. The housing supply cannot meet the demand when applications for such projects are tied up in the lengthy permit process, he said.

Ching was one of a number of developers who appeared before the Senate's task force on affordable housing yesterday. Streamlining the land-use process was among the suggestions made in a report issued Monday by a government and private industry task force coordinated by the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i.

It often takes four years to obtain approvals from the Land Use Commission and another two more years to get county permits, Ching said, "and then you go get the (building) permits after that."

Asked by one senator how long it should take to approve a housing development, Ching deadpanned, "Just sign a document and tell us go," drawing laughter from yesterday's participants.

The argument to reduce the duties of the LUC, if not outright abolish it, has been made for a number of years but appears to be taking new life this year because of the focus that government officials are placing on the need to provide affordable housing. But people who are argue against diminishing the LUC's powers, including environmentalists and other slow-growth advocates, say the additional layer of regulation is necessary to ensure that the effects of development are addressed adequately.

Debra Luning, director of government affairs and community relations for Gentry Homes, said "it's taking an inordinate amount of time nowadays" to obtain the approvals necessary for home-building.

Dean Uchida, executive director for the Land Use Research Foundation, said what's needed is to "remove the overlap" of duties conducted by both the LUC and the counties. He suggested removing the LUC from regulation of individual projects and having it "focus more on long-range kinds of stuff."

Marvin Awaya, head of the Pacific Housing Assistance Corp., said the LUC was created at a time when the counties were developing planning policies and did not have very much authority over land use. "Since then, they've matured enough to where they have their own planning departments and so forth," he said.

Henry Curtis, executive director of the nonprofit Life of the Land, sat in on yesterday's meeting and said afterward that he is troubled by the talk of diminishing the LUC's role. "I think (developers) see a golden opportunity where, because they suddenly love affordable housing, they can gut the state Land Use Commission," he said.

Curtis said the LUC is able to provide expertise focused on land-use issues while county planning departments scramble to get a variety of work done. The counties have even talked about outsourcing their processing work, a move that would turn over the authority over land-use decisions back to the business community itself, he said.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.

Correction: Carleton Ching's name was misspelled and his title was incorrect in a previous version of this story.