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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 19, 2010

City plans for park land raise concern

by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The city has suggested building a Board of Water Supply base yard in Koko Head District Park, despite objections that the land should be preserved for recreational use.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Board of Water Supply officials will meet with the public at 5:30 p.m. today at the Hawai'i Kai Library.

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The city wants to establish a Board of Water Supply base yard in East Honolulu, but one potential site is raising community concerns.

The county water agency said it's exploring possible base yard sites, which include an area within Koko Head District Park and land near a wastewater treatment plant by Sandy Beach.

Other sites could be identified in a feasibility study the agency plans to conduct before any decisions are made, Board of Water Supply spokesman Kurt Tsue said. "It's very early," he said. "We haven't done any assessments."

City officials want a base yard in East Honolulu so they can respond more quickly to water main breaks there. The nearest base yard with heavy equipment is in Kalihi.

Some East Honolulu residents — who agree that a base yard is needed in their community — say they believe the Board of Water Supply is trying to push the park site despite concerns expressed several years ago about the site's proximity to homes, the lost opportunity to expand recreational activities and a prohibition on nonrecreational use of the property.

"It's very disheartening," said Elizabeth Reilly, vice chair of the Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board. "They're trying to fit a 'square' base yard in a 'round' park."

The Board of Water Supply first floated the idea to use an undeveloped portion of the park for a base yard in 2007.

"The community said no," recalled Jeannine Johnson, a Niu Valley resident who attended the 2007 presentation. "We said you need to come up with another location."

The proposed site is less than 1,000 feet from homes on Kekupua Street and would occupy roughly two of 19 acres once used by Job Corps, a youth job training facility. The training facility, which was administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, was moved to Waimānalo in 1995.

All of Koko Head District Park, as well as adjacent land that was part of a regional park complex, was given to the city by Kamehameha Schools in 1928 for $1.

The Kamehameha Schools gift included a deed covenant restricting use of the land to recreational purposes, though that restriction has been relaxed on occasion with approval from the trust, previously known as the Bishop Estate.

Nonconforming past uses included Job Corps, decades of military use and a police substation. A field office for city lifeguards is on the property now.

In February, Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced in his State of the City address that Kamehameha Schools had agreed to ease the deed restriction to accommodate a Board of Water Supply base yard.

The mayor, in his speech, said a new East Honolulu base yard would also free space at the Board of Water Supply's Downtown headquarters on Beretania Street so the city can find a better use, perhaps from the private sector, for the prime piece of real estate near the state Capitol.

Gary Weller, a Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board member, said he suspects that reusing the Downtown property is a major motivation for the city to find an East Honolulu base yard.

Tsue said that's not the case, because the equipment and personnel for an East Honolulu base yard would be relocated from Kalihi.

Bill Brennan, a spokesman for Hannemann, said the mayor erred in linking the Downtown redevelopment plan with an East Honolulu base yard, and said that the two projects are unrelated.

Weller said that, regardless of whether redeveloping the Downtown site is a factor, the city should respect the deed covenant.

"The (property) was given to the city with the intention it be used for public recreation," he said. "It was not given for a base yard."

Tsue emphasized that no decision has been made. He said the agency is simply revisiting the idea floated three years ago.

Board of Water Supply representatives were scheduled to make a presentation to the Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board last month, but didn't have time to deliver their full presentation. The agency plans to discuss the idea more thoroughly at the board's April 27 meeting.

The agency also will discuss the proposal today at 5:30 p.m. at a public gathering at the Hawai'i Kai Library hosted by the community group Livable Hawaii Kai Hui.

Tsue said the planned feasibility study may identify other potential sites for a base yard. So far, the only identified options are the park site and the area by Sandy Beach. The latter site is in a tsunami inundation zone, though Tsue said it may be possible to establish a base yard far enough inland and outside the zone.

Tsue said base yards don't involve constant activity, but could operate late at night depending on when repair work is needed. The Board of Water Supply, on average, responds to one water main break a day on O'ahu.

One issue opponents of the park site believe the city can't mitigate is the loss of land for recreational use.

Much of the land remains undeveloped within the 40-acre park, which has baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts, a gym and facilities for arts and crafts programs. The park also is the starting point for a popular hike to the top of Koko Crater.

The city updated the park's master plan in 2001, and recommended transforming the former Job Corps area into a complex, similar to Ala Moana Park's McCoy Pavilion, for performing arts, educational programs and other recreational uses.

Proposed uses of the area in previous park master plans have included a disc-golf course and a network of pedestrian/bike paths. The park has been considered as a site for a public pool.

The poor economy makes park expansion unlikely for now, but many residents say they want the park's undeveloped land preserved for future recreational uses when funding becomes available.

"It's a slap in the face when (the city ignores) the Koko Head District Park master plan," Reilly said. "I'm deeply disappointed."