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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Abercrombie: Abolish HCDA

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kaka'ako would have more thriving small businesses, more moderate-priced housing and better recreational facilities if city government had been in charge of infrastructure improvements and development planning over the past three decades.

That's the view of U.S. Congressman Neil Abercrombie, who yesterday called for abolishing the Hawai'i Community Development Authority, the state's Kaka'ako planning agency that he has opposed for 30 years.

Abercrombie said the agency created by the Legislature in 1976 has never been accountable to area residents and has failed its mission to make Kaka'ako a more vibrant place for people to operate small businesses, live and enjoy recreation.

"What we were supposed to do down here was have our small-business people ... housing for ordinary folks ... and recreation," Abercrombie said at a press conference yesterday in Kaka'ako Makai Gateway Park. "That's what was supposed to be down here in Kaka'ako."

Abercrombie said the agency is running further afoul with its recent tentative selection of a $650 million development proposal by Alexander & Baldwin Inc. to build residential condominiums, retail shops, restaurants and recreational space on 36.5 acres of state land makai of Ala Moana next to Kewalo Harbor.

The congressman's statements are the most recent in a rising tide of criticism directed at the agency for soliciting and accepting private development proposals that called for building homes on state land.

A&B, which proposes selling 947 condo units in three 200-foot towers on 7 acres of state land it seeks to buy for $50 million, has said the condos are needed to pay for public facilities like a pedestrian bridge over Kewalo channel and a waterfront hula amphitheater.

The company and the agency said the project also will create more access to the waterfront blocked by old industrial establishments, provide about 190 units of below-market housing, and increase park space and public parking.

But the plan has led to protests from some park and ocean users who oppose commercial development that will add to traffic and crowd existing users of area park facilities.

Several legislators and some residents and area business owners have also opposed selling state land for residential use.

Abercrombie has long opposed the existence of the state agency that selected A&B.

As a state legislator in 1976, Abercrombie was the only one to vote against creating the agency, which was established as a way to revive a decaying part of industrial Honolulu in need of massive infrastructure improvements.

Yesterday Abercrombie said the Legislature should repeal the law that established the agency, and that improving Kaka'ako should be overseen by city planners and the City Council.

Abercrombie said his main reason for calling for an end to the agency now is because he said it has neglected to address mass transit planning, for which he is seeking federal financing.

Daniel Dinell, Hawai'i Community Development Authority executive director, said the agency incorporates the city's transit plan into Kaka'ako's master plan, but that the city is transitioning from its former bus-rapid-transit idea to another form of mass transit.

"There is no (city) transit plan we can incorporate into our plan, and when there is a transit plan, we will happily incorporate it into our Kaka'ako master plan," he said.

Dinell said the agency last week met with city transportation officials and the city's transportation consultant to discuss route alignments. "We work very closely with the city," he said.

Dinell also said he doubts that Kaka'ako would have much affordable housing or necessary infrastructure to support development that has occurred over the past 20 years if the agency had not been created.

He said the agency has spent $208 million to improve substandard infrastructure in the area, created 1,388 units of below-market housing and increased park space from 2 acres to 45 acres, including Makai Gateway Park where Abercrombie held his press conference.

"That park used to be a car lot, and because of HCDA it's a park for the public to enjoy," he said.

Dinell said the investment in infrastructure to bring things like roads and sewers up to city standards has helped attract $2 billion in private development and $500 million in public projects such as the University of Hawai'i medical school, affordable housing and parks.

Abercrombie didn't take issue with projects like the medical school or parks, but criticized the agency as being an organ of the governor, who selects most of the agency's board members.

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com.