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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 7, 2007

Some still unsold on Waipahu high-rise

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

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Longtime Waipahu residents are worried about the effect on the plantation community of a high-rise apartment complex that will soon tower over a town proud of its plantation lifestyle.

Construction began recently on the 330-unit twin-tower Plantation Town Apartments and more than half the units have already been spoken for, a sales official said.

Those are unpleasant developments for Jesus Santos, whose backyard on Nali'i Street abuts the dust fence put up by construction workers and whose bedroom window has a clear view of the piles being placed on the site.

Retired from the construction industry, Santos estimates between 20 to 30 piles are being pounded into the ground each day.

"They're going to put this building about 75 feet from our window, 12 stories high," said Santos, who's lived with his family in the same house for 34 years. "They've got everything blocked out."

The state is contributing the six-acre site for the project on the condition that the units be priced in the affordable category. The developer, Plantation Town Apartments LLC, also is receiving general excise tax exemptions. The first tower is expected to be completed in about 12 months, the second tower about six months after that.

"There is a tremendous need for affordable housing in the state of Hawai'i, and this is state-owned property that we believe is suitable for affordable housing," said Dan Davidson, director of the Hawai'i Housing Finance and Development Corp., the state's housing development agency.

The City Council last year approved a series of exemptions for the project site that included raising the 60-foot height limit to 105 feet, increasing the density in a neighborhood designated for single-family homes; and allowing the developer to have 39 fewer parking stalls than the 458 that would typically be required of a project of this size.

The exemptions bother longtime Waipahu residents like Santos and fellow Nali'i Street retiree Masu Uyeda. A petition opposing the exemptions last year drew more than 1,000 signatures, but the council voted 7-2 to approve the exemptions.

"My concerns are we're going to lose trade winds, we're not going to have any privacy and we're going to have plenty problems with the parking," Uyeda said. He estimates nearly 1,000 people will live in the towers and that most of the units will come with only one parking stall. "Don't tell me they're only going to get one driver and one car."

The old-timers also said they are concerned about the increased traffic in the area, especially along Paiwa Street, which is already a busy thoroughfare.

One of the reasons the two towers were placed on the Nali'i Street side was because of soil and drainage concerns on the opposite end of the site, which is bordered by a drainage canal, identified in one map book as Wailani Stream. Residents also say there is an underground spring in the area and that their yards often pond during heavy rains.

Davidson said the use of piles, careful site design and other geotechnical and civil-engineering measures were taken to address the concerns in the design of the project.


As for the traffic, Davidson said a traffic study concluded that impact from additional vehicles would be minimal, even during peak hours, and that no improvements were needed to existing streets.

Entry into the complex will be through Paiwa Street and Kau'olu Place.

Davidson said the buildings are part of a 22.5-acre master-planned development by the state known as the Kau'olu Project, which also includes a civic center, library, assisted-living facility, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg health and childcare facility, and 221 separate elderly housing units.

Sales agents with Hawaiian Island Homes Ltd., which has a model home unit on the construction site, point to the convenient location of the apartments. The property is within walking distance of Hans L'Orange Park, the Filipino Community Center, the Waipahu District Library, a major bus hub, and a series of strip malls. Right across the stream, on the makai side, lies Waipahu District Park and the Waipahu Recreation Center which feature a swimming pool, ball courts and other activities.

Bus stops going toward Waikele and Honolulu are on both sides of Paiwa just outside the project entrance.

To be able to qualify to purchase the homes, potential buyers must meet certain income levels and not own another property. They must also agree to live in the home and not sell it for 10 years.

One-bedroom units start at $131,500 while the three-bedroom units start at $291,000. Makai-side units from the sixth story on up have a view of the Pearl Harbor lochs. There will be a recreation center between the two towers.

Sales started about a month ago. Of the 330 units, about 170 are reserved or under contract, said Peter Savio, who owns Hawaiian Island Homes. "The sales are going very well, there's a strong demand," he said.

The project is drawing people from all walks of life and from all over the island. While a project like Plantation Town Apartments typically draws younger, first-time buyers, it has also attracted retirees, he said.

Savio, a fixture in the real-estate industry and a visible advocate of affordable-purchase units in Hawai'i, said he empathizes with the neighboring residents.

"But if we want to solve our housing crisis, and if we want to do what has to be done, this is the type of thing that needs to be done," Savio said. "And 12 stories to me is not an objectionable height for the area. I can see if there was a 30- or 40-story building there, that wouldn't be a nice location or spot for it."

There are buildings in Waipahu as high as 11 stories, Savio said, but he acknowledged most are on the Kapolei side of the community and "most of the projects tend to be low-rise because historically that's what would be built out there."


The Waipahu Neighborhood Board did not take a position on the exemptions requested by the developer, but asked it to work with neighbors to resolve their issues.

But Richard Oshiro, board chairman, testified as a private citizen against the exemptions. "It's very close to the homes on Nali'i Street," Oshiro said. "And these are two large towers; you've got to figure there are going to be a large number of those piles that have to be driven into the ground."

Residents wanted the state and developer to consider scaling it down but it was too late, Oshiro said.

"I think everybody supports the concept and the idea of affordable housing, but I don't know if it needs to be these huge towers," he said. "I would have thought that the state, before it put it out to bid, could have done a better job of listening to the residents first."

Uyeda said: "I'm not against affordable housing, but I'm against the way they're doing it. It's too close to the boundary and it's too high."

Santos said people from outside the immediate neighborhood already add to the congestion on Nali'i by leaving their cars parked there. "When they put these two buildings in here with all their families, God help us, they're going to be parking all over the place."

But according to Savio: "If we're going to solve the affordable-housing crisis, because our land is so expensive, one of the best weapons we have is to increase the density."

Principals with Plantation Town Apartments LLC referred telephone inquiries to Savio. Development managing partner Michael Kimura, who told area residents that he grew up in Waipahu, is affiliated with Waldron Ventures, which has developed affordable high-rises elsewhere, including two towers on Young Street at the site of the old Honolulu police station. He also helped develop 215 North King, an apartment building across the street from 'A'ala Park.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.