Many say Central O'ahu's future looks too crowded
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
MILILANI — Christopher Mann held onto his daughter as he looked out over peaceful, vacant fields destined to be filled in with homes, traffic congestion and perhaps overtaxed sewer lines and crowded schools.
One day Mann, 55, hopes to turn over his three-bedroom, two-bath home in Mililani to now 7-year-old Eun-ae. But even before Eun-ae grows up, Mann fears that life around Mililani will become intolerable when the groundwork for the first of a potential 17,500 more condos, townhomes and single-family houses begins as early as the end of this year.
"I'm not opposed to development — I don't want anybody to think that," Mann said. "It's good for business. It's good for growth. But it's got to be organized. We have to make sure we don't build any faster than the schools and roads can handle it."
Central O'ahu residents such as Mann, and two Neighborhood Boards, say the area's latest large-scale developments will bring in 24,000 new homes and 55,000 more residents by 2025 — numbers the developers say are overblown.
Whether the ultimate number of homes turns out to be closer to 17,000 or 24,000, both sides agree that more houses, more people and more cars are only going to exacerbate the problems residents already struggle with, such as sending their children to crowded schools just before crawling onto congested highways to spend an hour or more each way getting to and from home and work.
Preventing the problems that already are playing out in places like Mililani, 'Ewa and Kapolei will take millions of dollars and unprecedented cooperation between no fewer entities and agencies than the state Legislature, Honolulu City Council, state Land Use Commission, Department of Transportation, Department of Education and two Hawai'i home builders.
History and the realities of the bureaucratic process suggest that the current residents and their new neighbors are doomed to wrestle with even more congestion and frustration.
"If it's done right, it could be a model community," said state Rep. Ryan Yamane (D-37th, Mililani/Waipio). "But where are they going to get the water? How are they going to handle all of the capacity? Are they going to put in (freeway) on-ramps? How many schools are there going to be? We need more answers. The little things that affect our quality of life are already creeping up more and more."
The frustrated members of the Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu Neighborhood Board in January asked the City Council to impose a moratorium on any more residential development in Central O'ahu, saying the city's "sustainable communities plan" for the area fails to address critical issues such as schools, traffic and commuter problems.
The Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu and Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Neighborhood boards have begun organizing community meetings to try to harness residents' frustrations to pressure city and state officials to impose requirements on developers Castle & Cooke and Waiawa Development — a sister company of Gentry Homes — that they hope will produce the schools, roads and other amenities they want.
The next community meeting is tonight at Mililani Ike Elementary School.
Waiawa Development hopes to break ground on the first phase of what could be 10,000 homes by the end of this year or the early part of next year, company president Dave McCoy said.
Half of the project is "zoned and ready to go," McCoy said. The other half still needs to be considered by the state Land Use Commission and then the City Council.
Following a successful court challenge by the Sierra Club in January, Castle & Cooke will have to produce an environmental assessment for its Koa Ridge Makai and Waiawa developments and resubmit its application to the state Land Use Commission. Castle & Cooke's Koa Ridge Mauka plans also must go before the Land Use Commission and City Council.
Carleton Ching, Castle & Cooke director of community and government relations, said the state and county hearings, which have yet to be scheduled, will give anyone a chance to be part of the process.
But he's already concerned that the Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu Neighborhood Board's request for a building moratorium will polarize the various parties.
"I hate to say it, but sometimes we think that's the mentality — to stop construction," Ching said.
Elmer Cabico, a 63-year-old carpenter, has lived in Mililani since he bought a townhouse with his then-young family in 1975 and then bought and sold into subsequently larger houses.
"A moratorium is the wrong thing," Cabico said.
He not only worries about the future of Hawai'i's construction industry, but also young families who will buy "starter" homes in the new developments — just as Cabico did 30 years ago.
"The attitudes of some of the people are, 'Hey, we got ours, and we don't want anybody else to move in,' " Cabico said. "To me, that's the wrong attitude."
The Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu Neighborhood Board is chaired by Richard Poirier, an urban and regional planner for the state Office of Planning, who said, "I know exactly what's going to happen. We're going to end up like 'Ewa, where you can't even get out of your driveway."
In 1967, Poirier bought the second home offered for sale in his Mililani neighborhood — a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, single-family house that cost him $36,800, including the land.
The former pineapple fields were still so rural that pineapples continued to grow out of Poirier's lawn.
"There weren't any shopping centers, and there weren't even any stores," Poirier said. "It was really very, very crude. Then it just started to develop, develop and develop."
By 1996, Melissa Graffigna — the mother of three children — started getting involved with community issues when children from Mililani were temporarily required to attend Wheeler Intermediate School until Mililani Middle School opened.
"I was like, 'Wait a minute. We're a Mililani community,' " Graffigna said. " 'Why are kids going elsewhere?' The answer was that our schools were already over capacity."
Graffigna since has become the chairwoman of the Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Neighborhood Board and remains frustrated that things like the plans for Mililani Mauka District Park have yet to be realized. "We were supposed to have a gym, baseball field, basketball and tennis courts," Graffigna said. "There's still nothing. Right now, they're finally just putting in a baseball field."
Like others, McCoy, of Waiawa Development, doesn't know of any other way to make sure the new residents of the proposed communities get all of the libraries, fire and police stations, parks, ambulance services, sewers, schools and connector roads to already congested freeways that community residents want.
Landowners already donate land for schools and fire stations. But it's up to the various government entities to pay for the buildings, hire the workers and ensure money to keep the buildings maintained, McCoy said.
Elected officials and others are talking about ways of getting schools built faster, such as having developers build them and lease them back to the DOE until the Legislature can pay the developers.
Even if the developers agree, McCoy and Ching said having their companies pay for the initial construction would only drive up the price of the new homes.
"A lot of people don't understand the process," Ching said. "We're no different than the guy who makes a plate lunch and needs to pass along the costs when his expenses go up."
As McCoy said, "somebody ultimately has to pay the tab. Should it be the homeowner? Or should it be the taxpayer?"
Since no one has come up with a way to build more communities while guaranteeing enough county- and state-funded amenities, Ching said, the people of Central O'ahu have few options other than relying on the same governmental process that has resulted in problems in Mililani, 'Ewa and Kapolei.
"The only other choice is to stop the population," Ching said. "Close the gates around the state and say, 'Don't come here anymore. And by the way, don't have any more kids.' And that's just not going to happen."
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.