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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Resident voices must be heard in transit planning

The opportunity to have a real voice in the way a town develops doesn't come around very often. For some well-established communities along the route of the planned rail-transit line, there's never been a chance like this.

Last night, Waipahu, the first of the communities to discuss "transit-oriented development," or TOD, met again, continuing a conversation that began last year. Tonight residents of East Kapolei will begin the process in a town meeting at 7 p.m. at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Hale Pono'i building, 91-5420 Kapolei Parkway.

And today the City Council should vote to approve Bill 10, the ordinance that will provide the legal underpinnings for all this careful planning.

The product for each of the transit stops is to draw up a special set of regulations that will govern development in that specific zone. Each community has different needs, so what works for one community may not suit the others.

In general, though, the object is to have a outline in place that would guide decisions on the projects that would be built within the zone. Ideally, the result should be a coherent statement of what the community wants for the area, and the process of building it should be streamlined which in itself is an incentive for developers.

The rules would include:

  • Allowances for a mix of land uses, including affordable housing, in a given area.

  • Limits for building height and density, paired with requirements for amenities such as open space and community centers.

  • Design elements that would enable easy use of non-automotive transit, including bikeways and walkways as well as the train itself.

    Among the general goals Bill 10 makes explicit is the policy statement that the city wants to avoid "gentrification" along the rail route. Undoubtedly the projects will include some higher-end housing units, but it's critical to avoid a major redevelopment of a town that won't accommodate the people who currently live in the community.

    These include people who may be well into retirement by the time the project is done. With the aging of baby boomers sure to expand the elder population, creating living areas for them and others who have limited income is of paramount importance.

    The TOD discussions should bring in ideas from developers for ways that will enable these goals to be met. Other cities have applied successful strategies such as higher densities near the core and tax-incentive financing, among other means.

    But the most essential assurance of success, without a doubt, has been the involvement of the community. It's hard to imagine the creation of a vibrant new neighborhood without that.