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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 18, 2006

Council must rethink transit permit limits

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The transit system is envisioned as a means of managing our transportation needs, but that's only half the story.

Proponents are also enthused about this mass transit solution because the rail route creates a magnet for development. Besides stimulating the economy, rail planning tends to keep dense urbanization concentrated along that band rather than sprawling a benefit in a place that's critically short of open space.

So the idea of what amounts to a year-long moratorium on development all along the rail corridor is illogical, since development is, to a large extent, what it's all about.

There's some sense in the intent behind Councilman Gary Okino's proposal for a stay in development along the rail corridor. Nobody wants a hodgepodge of projects sprouting up before the City Council has time to devise a way to plan things properly.

But a moratorium is not the answer.

Is a year-long timeout too long? Undoubtedly.

The council could add a component to the permitting process to ensure transit-oriented development along the rail line is compatible with the overall project. And given the already cumbersome process, the rules must be clear and stated up-front to avoid unnecessary delays and costs that could be incurred, which opens the city to liability claims.

Indeed, the proposal for a moratorium of any length raises some crucial questions that the council must consider. For example: Although courts have generally found a moratorium of limited duration is not an illegal "taking" of property rights, the issue gets murky when a developer already has some of the needed permits. And is roping off a quarter mile on either side of the alignment excessively broad?

And does the alignment tentatively chosen in committee make sense? Or does it eliminate much of the transit-oriented development potential in West O'ahu? Let's hope the council rethinks that choice before final approval is given on Friday.

Whatever the questions, it will take a meeting of the minds to find the answers. Before enacting any kind of restrictions on development, the property owners with a stake in the issue should be consulted.

Okino, whose background is in planning, wants the city to proceed in a rational manner so that this development is done right. So do we all. Fortunately, he's also willing to consider a compromise, which is precisely what's needed here.