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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 26, 2007

Hawaii Royal Kunia II project starting in '08

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser West O'ahu Writer

KUNIA Developers of the long-delayed second phase of Royal Kunia expect to break ground by the end of next year and hope the first of up to 2,000 new homes will be completed as early as 2010.

With the addition, the burgeoning 'Ewa-Kapolei-Makakilo region is scheduled to grow by more than 10,000 new units over the next few decades. That translates into more traffic as well as additional pressure on schools, utilities and other regional infrastructure.

The Ho'opili master-planned community, across the H-1 Freeway from Kunia, could bring as many as 11,000 new homes but has yet to receive key land use approvals.

The prospect of new housing has left nearby residents excited and nervous.

There are about 1,930 homes in Royal Kunia I and about 2,000 homes in neighboring Village Park, meaning the 161-acre Royal Kunia II project could add as much as 50 percent to the population of the bedroom community mauka of Waipahu and 'Ewa.

Some Royal Kunia residents are looking forward to the benefits Royal Kunia II could bring, such as money for more and better roads, a new school and a new recreational center.

The developer, Halekua Kunia LLC, will need to put in about $60 million in total off-site improvements, including water tanks, transmission lines and road improvements, according to plans provided last week by project management consultant Stanford Carr.

Carr told members of the Royal Kunia Community Association that residents can expect an improved traffic circulation plan with more through and connecting streets, the widening of Kunia Road from two lanes to four as originally planned and changes to 'Anonui Street the main thoroughfare that could help address long-standing problems with speeding and racing.

"We welcome the development of Royal Kunia, Phase II," said Mike Freeman, president of the association. "A number of long-awaited community amenities were tied to the beginning of Phase II, including a large community center and a community swimming pool."

Carr told members of the association that the development team is working with city planners and transportation officials on an updated roadway plan that makes sense for the area.

Many subdivisions of the last several decades, including Royal Kunia I and Village Park, favored cul-de-sacs and stub-outs to satisfy privacy-seeking homeowners.

But city officials have asked Halekua Kunia to build fewer cul-de-sacs in favor of more connecting streets so that residents and emergency responders "have more options," Carr said.

That philosophy also extends to major arterial roads. 'Anonui Street, designed as the main road through Royal Kunia, was originally planned as a loop road tied on two ends to Kunia Road the way Kupuna Loop travels around Village Park.

But Halekua Kunia is being asked to design 'Anonui to end at a new "T" road on the north side of the property. That new road would then connect with Kunia Road.

Not only would that change help avoid confusion about where 'Anonui starts and ends, it would force speedy drivers and racers to stop at the "T" road. 'Anonui long has been notorious as a speedway for racers and car drifters. On Halloween night, a 14-year-old passenger of a vehicle that witnesses said may have been racing on 'Anonui died when the driver lost control and the car slammed into a utility pole.

There will also be more median strips and parkways along 'Anonui, Carr said.

"It would be a lot more safer and more visually appealing to put median strips in the middle of the parkway road," he said.

As originally planned, Kunia Road would be expanded to four lanes from its existing two in the area of Royal Kunia II.

The exact breakdown of the types of homes to be developed has yet to be finalized, but the hope is "to create a diversity of housing opportunities" that would include single-family homes and townhouse units, for-sale and rental housing, Carr said.

As required by state affordable housing rules, the developer must make 30 percent of its units available for those making between 80 percent and 120 percent of O'ahu's median income.

Carr said the developer expects to contribute $2.5 million toward development of the second phase of the Royal Kunia recreation center, a project that is expected to get under way next year.

The developer also supports speeding up the building of a public school in Royal Kunia II, Carr said. "The school is an amenity to the community; it's an important part of it," he said.

The school site had already been deeded to the Kobayashi Group, which completed one-source "design-and-build" campuses at Kapolei Elementary School and Kapolei High School.

Freeman, the association president, said a second elementary school is badly needed to relieve overcrowding at Kalei'opu'u Elementary School in Village Park.

"Phase II will provide even more justification to move the school to the top of the (Board of Education) priority list," he said.

The extra traffic created by the new homes will be "unfortunate but inevitable," Freeman said. "We hope that Kunia Road will be widened in advance of the housing construction to help with traffic makai toward H-1 and mauka toward Schofield Barracks and the North Shore."

Sen. Mike Gabbard, D-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele), said he was pleased by what he heard at Carr's presentation before the association.

Area residents, for the most part, are OK with new development so long as the roads, sewers, schools and other infrastructure are put in quickly enough to accommodate the growth, Gabbard said. In this case, he said, it appears the developer is willing to do so.

One situation he will be monitoring is the impact to the H-1 'Ewa-Kunia interchange and what improvements will be done there, Gabbard said.

The planned Ho'okipa project, on a site between the makai side of H-1 and 'Ewa, is also expected to have a significant impact on traffic at the interchange. Ho'okipa, which some have compared to Mililani, is also expected to be serviced by a new North-South Road interchange between 'Ewa and Kapolei, however.

Royal Kunia II has been a long time coming. Real estate investor Herbert Horita's original Halekua Development first broke ground in 1994. But the company ran into financial straits during the 1990s. Halekua filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003 with debts of more than $40 million, and Royal Kunia I was finished through a partnership led by Castle & Cooke Hawaii.

But during a bankruptcy auction in August 2006, Horita's Halekua Kunia LLC was backed by a pair of California financiers and emerged as the top bidder with an offer of $50.2 million. Carr, bidding independently, had the second-highest bid and is now working with Horita.

Carr estimated it will take 10 to 15 years to complete the housing project.

Royal Kunia residents said it took roughly 18 years to complete the first phase.

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

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