Looking makai from H-1 Freeway just west of Waipahu is a tranquil view: rows of green and resting fields of fertile dirt covering 1,600 acres.
Hot weather and cool irrigation make these former sugar cane fields optimal for growing food, including broccoli, cucumbers, daikon, lettuce, melons, onions, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, won bok, zucchini and more.
But nearly 20 miles away in a Downtown Honolulu state office tower, a battle is shaping up over the future of the area that is known as O'ahu's golden triangle of agriculture but also has long been designated by government planners as the island's primary urban growth outlet.
This vast section of the 'Ewa Plain is the site of the proposed 11,750-home Ho'opili community, a long-range development plan on the scale of Mililani or Hawai'i Kai, including parks, schools and commercial complexes.
The plan is eliciting passionate and divisive views — from residents, trade associations and government entities — on urban growth, the importance of prime agricultural land and transportation that when decided will affect residents from Wai'anae to Waipahu and beyond for decades.
"It's a highly significant project due to its scope and location," said Orlando "Dan" Davidson, executive officer of the state Land Use Commission.
The estimated $4.6 billion project by the local Schuler Division of Texas-based homebuilder D.R. Horton Inc. initially came to wide public attention three years ago as a conceptual plan. But despite its massive scope and acute effect on traffic, farming and the city's rail plan, relatively few public comments were submitted as part of an environmental impact statement completed a year ago.
Early this year, the Land Use Commission began hearings to consider reclassifying the Ho'opili site from agricultural to urban use. Reclassification is the first of two major regulatory hurdles the project faces. The second is county rezoning decided by the City Council.
The hearings before the commission's nine members are expected to last to the end of the year.
Through April, almost all submitted public testimony supported Ho'opili. But since June, public testimony has mostly opposed the project.
Overall, testimony received to date by the LUC is split roughly 45 in favor and 35 against.
More testimony is expected to be submitted at LUC hearings scheduled for tomorrow and Friday and later this year.