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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Land along proposed rail route off limits?

 •  Kapolei may be home to huge office complex

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

The final vote on whether rail is the best solution to ease traffic problems on O'ahu is still pending, but a move to control development along possible routes drew enough alarm yesterday to defer a proposal intended to prevent rampant land speculation.

How best to encourage appropriate development was the question before the City Council, which postponed action on a proposal to temporarily freeze development along the proposed O'ahu rail route.

As currently written, the bill would temporarily prohibit development "within one-fourth mile on either side" of the rail route, and within a half-mile of the location of any "transit station, transit center, or proposed transit station or transit center."

The bill, proposed by Councilman Gary Okino, would take effect only if the council approves a rail line for O'ahu. It would be effective for a year after being enacted, or until a permanent "transit-oriented development" ordinance was put in place to regulate land use along the route and near the transit stations.

A decision on what type of mass transit and what route it will take will be discussed at today's council transportation committee meeting and could be poised for a third and final vote on Dec. 22.

Okino, a staunch supporter of transit, said he wants to seek some limits on development as a way to plan responsible growth in communities affected by the $3.6 billion public works project.

Yesterday's council meeting included testimony from developers who spoke against the proposal.

Campbell Estate was among those that said it went too far and would halt developments that have won the preliminary approvals needed. As written, the bill would have allowed no applications for building or grading permits, zoning changes, housing or other developments along the route and near the transit stations.

David Rae, Campbell Estate vice president of public affairs, said the landowner understands the council's desire for planned development. "However, Bill 86, as currently written, would have the effect of halting all progress in Kapolei."

Okino said he considered the moratorium after hearing reports that alarmed him.

"I was more concerned when I began to hear about proposals to rush in to make a quick turnaround, make a quick buck, by locking in land, valuable land close to the station at very low density."

Local developer Avalon Development Co. LLC, which plans to build 335,000 square feet of mostly office space across the street from the Kapolei public library, also testified against the bill as currently written.

The bill was up for the second of three votes required for final passage, but it was sent back to committee. That gives the council a chance to modify it.

Okino said he would offer a shorter time limit, change the area affected and consider various modifications to find something that achieved responsible limits without halting developments that are planned and endorsed by the community.

"We can make this out so it will be win-win," he said. "We can have appropriate development."

Okino said the concerns raised are valid. "We put in the biggest net possible, which may have been a mistake," he said.

Councilman Todd Apo said the city should be cautious about going too far with mandated limits.

He said too broad a definition means a landowner who wants to build an addition to a single-family home could be stopped.

"The danger is any type of moratorium is taking something away from landowners or developers," he said.

Professor David Callies, of the University of Hawai'i William S. Richardson School of Law, said the council needs to balance concerns.

But "there's a serious question about how long you can put an absolute moratorium in place," said Callies, who also is a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Callies, who did not attend yesterday's meeting, said it makes sense for the council to consider ways to prevent the land speculation that would be likely without any kind of limits.

He agrees that development without controls could create problems, but added, "I don't think that gives the city the right or responsibility to just bring development to a screeching halt."

Callies favors some interim development controls that would permit a range of things. "It wouldn't just stop development cold for a period of 12 months or more," he said.

Okino said the city will work on improving the measure. The council's transportation committee meets today to discuss transit and again next week before the full council is scheduled to take a final vote on the transit project.

If council members agree to modified limits on development along the transit route, those restrictions could be approved at the same time as transit, sending both measures to Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

Bob Bruhl, vice president of O'ahu Development for D.R. Horton-Schuler Homes, said the proposal should not be passed as written because it would suggest "a blanket stop to major current operations throughout the island's primary development and commercial corridor."

Bruhl said among the projects affected would be his company's planned 1,150 homes in the Mehana project.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.