Condo project splits Waipahu
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Leeward Writer
By Rod Ohira
WAIPAHU — Sandwiched between a neighborhood's concerns about a proposed development and a Waipahu native's willingness to take on a project on challenging terrain is the pressing need for affordable housing on O'ahu.
Homeowners from Mokuola, Nali'i and Paiwa streets near Waipahu District Park who oppose the proposed Plantation Town Apartments development, which will offer 330 affordable units in two 12-story buildings to first-time buyers, say traffic and problems in the area will only get worse with the additional residents.
Also, by allowing the buildings to rise 105 feet above ground, exceeding the 60-foot height limit for medium-density apartments in the Central O'ahu Sustainable Communities Plan, some homeowners say they'll be forced to live in the shadow of the buildings.
Developer Michael Kimura, born and raised in Waipahu's plantation camp, is president of CMKLV Inc. and the overall managing partner of Plantation Town Apartments LLC. Active in Hawai'i's building industry since 1972, Kimura has developed about three dozen projects in Hawai'i and his most recent developments include the Waipahu Adult Day Health Center, the 446-unit Pawa'a condominiums at 1448 and 1450 Young St., and the 282-unit condominium at 1133 Waimanu St.
Plantation Town Apartments will be built on 2.8 acres of property that Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i officials say is the state's last two parcels of nonceded residential land on O'ahu. Due to poor soil conditions, Kimura was only one of two developers willing to submit a proposal to do the project.
"I'm familiar with the land, I played in the area growing up, I know the problems with the ground so it's not like I'm going in blind," Kimura said. "I'm not afraid of it, and I know I can do it.
"When you talk about the foundation, everybody cringes because this used to be rice fields and taro patches. The so-called rock layer, the good layer, is pretty far down so our piles will go down 40 to 60 feet. That's one of the reasons we had to go to a higher building than I would like. To get money out of it so you can keep the prices down, you have to go higher."
For the state, the goal is to have as many affordable units on the site as possible. According to Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i records, Kimura's proposal called for 96 more units than the other received. Estimated cost of the development is $61.8 million.
Like many of his neighbors, Nali'i Street resident Richard Costa is not opposed to affordable housing, but he believes the size of this project is a burden to his neighborhood.
Costa pointed out that on a good morning when there are no accidents, it takes him 15 to 20 minutes just to drive a couple of blocks from his home to Farrington Highway. Costa believes it can only get worse with at least 330 more cars.
He's also concerned that the housing project allows for only 386 parking stalls for resident use and with the height of the buildings.
"They're figuring one stall per unit but most households have two to three cars, and that's conservative for Waipahu," Costa said. "On regular days now on Nali'i Street, we have people living two or three blocks away parking here."
Costa's house will be only 50 feet away from one of the buildings. "I'm losing half the view of the whole sky from my house," Costa said. "What's the sense of having zoning laws if you can change the laws to suit the needs of something else?"
Costa's name is on a petition that has about 900 signatures of people opposed to the project, which only needs City Council approval for 201G exemptions (zoning, permitting, height, density, parking and tax) normally granted to affordable housing developments to proceed. The council's zoning committee has a hearing scheduled July 5.
"They just going to shove this down our throats," said Masa Uyeda, a Nali'i Street resident who started the petition drive. Uyeda is not against affordable housing but believes the project should be two-story buildings rather than 12-story buildings. He's also concerned about noise from the pneumatic pile driving that will occur.
The developer, however, also has compiled a list with an equal number of people's names who want the project.
Colleen Gantala, who lives in Waipahu with her in-laws, said she and her husband, Alan, have been trying to buy a home in Hawai'i since 1993. A move to the Mainland in 2000 drained their savings and they returned in 2003 to try again. Plantation Town Apartments is appealing, she says.
"We want something that's secured and safe but everything is $500,000 to $600,000," Gantala said. "It's just too high. Our price range is less than $200,000. We know Waipahu and how things are here so this would be OK for us.
"I know people living around there think we're invading their space but times are changing. They need to give others a chance to have a better life."
The big money is in developing luxury condominiums but Kimura says building affordable housing gives him more satisfaction.
"Because I was born and raised on a plantation, I feel for the people just starting out," said Kimura, whose partner in the project is Franklin Tokioka of Island-Waipahu LLC. "I look at myself like a dinosaur because I think old-time builders were more like I am. They were concerned about working people, trying to create housing and making a living doing it.
"The gap between the so-called market prices and affordables is becoming too wide. I'm worried people are going to be left behind too far and will lose their drive, their interest to better themselves."
Reach Rod Ohira at firstname.lastname@example.org.