11,700-home project to seek land-use approval
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Andrew Gomes
The developer of possibly the largest master-planned community ever created on O'ahu plans to apply next week for state land-use approval, a major step for the 'Ewa project envisioned with 11,700 homes plus schools, parks and businesses.
Dubbed Ho'opili, the project by D.R. Horton Inc.'s Schuler Division is big enough to be considered its own school district, with five proposed public schools — three elementary, one middle and one high school — and possibly one or two private schools.
Designed along a stretch of the city's planned mass-transit line, Ho'opili will include job-creating commercial space to encourage residents not to commute to Honolulu.
But the sheer scope of the project, estimated to take 15 to 25 years to complete, is scary to some residents concerned chiefly about the 'Ewa region's inadequate road infrastructure.
The development site is 1,600 acres of largely fallow farmland roughly bordered by H-1 Freeway, 'Ewa Villages, Fort Weaver Road and the future North-South Road.
Other elements of the project include 3 million to 4 million square feet of commercial space — enough to create roughly 7,000 jobs — divided among offices, retail, and a research and development park.
About 200 acres would be dedicated for parks or open space, including a regional park with ball fields for Ho'opili and neighboring communities.
Of the 11,700 homes, Schuler expects to provide 30 percent, or about 3,500 homes, at prices affordable to residents earning around the median income as typically required by the county for projects on land zoned for agriculture.
Most of Ho'opili's homes are designed as higher-density multifamily units around businesses and the mass-transit line the city is routing through Ho'opili, which should encourage residents to walk or commute via rail to work instead of making the bumper-to-bumper rush-hour drive to Honolulu.
Richard Oshiro, chairman of the Waipahu Neighborhood Board, said Ho'opili does a good job incorporating elements such as multiple schools and transit that help make a livable community.
"The concept, I think, is great," he said. "This is a very large project, and it will have an impact on surrounding communities."
Schuler has been formulating Ho'opili plans for more than a year, and initially outlined the general scope of the project for an Advertiser story last June after holding preliminary community meetings.
Though still largely conceptual and preliminary, more project details have solidified as Schuler prepares to petition the state Land Use Commission next week to reclassify the 1,600 acres of agriculture land for urban use.
"We're excited," said Mike Jones, Schuler president. "We see it as the gateway to 'Ewa."
The Land Use Commission review, which could take a year to 18 months, is required because the Ho'opili site was not previously classified for urban use by the state, though it is designated for urban use under the city's 'Ewa Development Plan that directs major residential growth to the area.
As part of its petition, Schuler will prepare and publish an environmental impact statement later this year, and will need to obtain zoning from the City Council. If all approvals can be obtained without major delay, Schuler anticipates delivering the first homes at Ho'opili in 2012.
Area residents from Makakilo to 'Ewa Beach have bristled at plans for more homes in the area, though for more than a year, Schuler has worked with an advisory panel of roughly 30 community leaders to help shape Ho'opili into a project it hopes will gain wide support.
George Yakowenko, an Army retiree who has lived in Waipahu since 1982, said he found it refreshing to help Schuler shape its project, which he supports if the government can provide public services and infrastructure to accommodate such a large community.
"I'm in favor (of Ho'opili), provided the government comes in and does their share," he said.
HOMES TO DOUBLE
The city forecasts that the number of homes on the 'Ewa Plain will roughly double from about 25,000 today to about 60,000 by 2030, primarily from master-planned communities including Ocean Pointe, Ewa by Gentry, Villages of Kapolei, Mehana and Makaiwa Hills.
Of these, Ewa by Gentry is the biggest, with about 7,200 planned units, roughly 6,000 of which have been built. Ocean Pointe will eventually have 4,850 homes. Ko Olina Resort & Marina is expected to have a total of 4,450 homes.
Compared with these and other master-planned O'ahu communities, Ho'opili may become the largest. Mililani has roughly 11,000 homes. Hawai'i Kai has about as many. A planned Waiawa project by Gentry Homes will have 10,000 to 12,000 homes.
Ho'opili is partially a reincarnation of a 1996 Schuler plan to build 8,000 homes on about 750 acres of former sugar land at the time mostly owned by the Campbell Estate.
Schuler's plan a decade ago, dubbed East Kapolei, won the endorsement of the city's chief planning official, but a weakening housing market and local economy led Schuler to cancel the plan in late 1996.
A LARGER VISION
The developer rekindled and expanded its vision, given strong momentum to develop nearby projects, including a University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu campus, the North-South Road, mass transit, and a regional shopping center and homes by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Last March, Schuler purchased 1,600 acres from the Campbell Estate for $71 million, according to property records.
The Ho'opili site was once part of verdant sugar-cane fields that went fallow in 1995 when Oahu Sugar Co. got out of the business.
Over the past decade, diversified-crop farmers have leased some of the land, including Aloun Farms, Larry Jefts Farms and others.
The city has identified some ag land to preserve. According to the city's 'Ewa Development Plan, last updated in 2000, high-value former Oahu Sugar Co. farmland to be preserved for agriculture covers 3,000 acres mauka of H-1 Freeway on the Wai'anae side of Kunia Road, and in the West Loch Naval Magazine's blast zone bordering Ewa by Gentry.
Reach Andrew Gomes at email@example.com.