Kauai developer prepares to start on 'green' subdivision
By Diana Leone
LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Grove Farm is moving ahead with plans to develop almost 400 acres of former sugar lands adjacent to the Lihu'e Airport into retail, office, residential and industrial uses over the next decade.
The Wailani development is expected to be a huge project for Kaua'i that will create 300 to 500 construction jobs in its first five to seven years.
The kama'aina company has been planning the project for some time and hopes to make the residential-retail portion a showplace of "smart growth" — with living quarters built above retail spaces to make a walkable neighborhood and a variety of "green" design elements.
Now, after five years of in-house planning, Grove Farm will seek subdivision permits from Kaua'i County this summer, followed by grading and building permits, said Warren H. Haruki, Grove Farm's president and CEO.
A presentation he made Thursday to the Lihu'e Business Association marked the beginning of efforts to spread the word.
Grove Farm Co. Inc. hopes it can include enough elements of energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources to merit the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
If that's successful, Grove Farm's Wailani would be the first such neighborhood in the state, Haruki told the association.
The LEED concepts fit well with Grove Farm's "triple bottom line" vision of improving the social and environmental state of its home island of Kaua'i, as well as making a profit, Michael Tresler, Grove Farm senior vice president, told The Advertiser in a recent interview.
About 50 members and guests of the Lihu'e Business Association gave Haruki's brief description of the project a warm reception.
"It was apparent from the applause on several occasions at the forum — although there are still questions about details — that many support what they are doing," said Kaua'i Chamber of Commerce president Randy Francisco. "I think they're leading the way for other developers."
The first phase of the ambitious plans could begin construction in one to two years, Haruki said.
The mixed retail/residential section is planned for the southwest corner of the Ahukini Road and Kapule Highway intersection, in the fields near the Kaua'i Police Department and state courts building.
Grove Farm envisions the first 130-acre "quadrant" of its overall Wailani subdivision to begin with infrastructure, a retail center, and about 50 housing units with a mix of townhomes, "stacked flats" over retail stores and single-family homes, Haruki said.
The overall mix of homes, rental apartments and condos will depend on the market, he said.
No cost estimate for the development was available from Grove Farm. But officials were clear that they expect its impact to be big.
"Once started, this will be one of the largest construction projects on Kaua'i," Haruki said.
Retail anchor tenants are projected to be a multiplex theater, grocery store and kama'aina hotel, Haruki said. Construction of that section is probably two years away, but could begin moving sooner, depending on county permits, investors and potential tenants, Haruki said.
Haruki said no tenants are committed, but he threw out such names as Zippy's, an O'ahu-based chain without a presence on the Garden Island, and Kaua'i's well-known Hamura's Saimin.
"We want to make it easy and safe to walk from your home to the supermarket, theater, restaurants and shops," Haruki said.
With new athletic fields, a YWCA and a school in the ultimate mix, "we want kids to be able to walk and bike around without parents or grandparents getting in cars and shuttling them around, adding to traffic," Haruki said. The YWCA of Kaua'i has purchased land in the development area, with a
$2 million discount off market price from Grove Farm, he said.
Grove Farm will seek variances from county building codes on parking spaces per business and height of buildings. These are to create the greater compactness that is a hallmark of smart growth building, with walkable spaces between buildings.
County Councilman Jay Furfaro urged Grove Farm to work with the county as it updates old zoning codes, giving input on what would make smart growth more workable for developers.
"You've got to credit Grove Farm for being one of the few companies doing urban subdivisions on Kaua'i," said county Councilman Tim Bynum.
"Everything they presented is all consistent with smart growth principles," Bynum said. His only concern is making sure the Wailani development doesn't detract from just-completed plans to revitalize Lihu'e's "town core" with infrastructure improvements to make it more walkable and conducive to mixed use.
A development with increased density should be less costly to build and thus more affordable for young people, Haruki said. He said he hopes Kaua'i-born young people will come home and find Wailani "fun and affordable."
The development will also have assisted living for the elderly and a "kama'aina" hotel that will focus on business travelers or sports teams from other islands, "who don't want to pay resort prices," Haruki said.
The village center will be built to allow streets to be closed off to vehicles for weekend festivals and other events, Haruki said. It will also feature a farmers marketplace and possible venues for farmers to increase the value of their raw products.
Haruki said the residential segments will incorporate affordable units — and will include a clause that encourages buyers to live in
a home and discourages speculation. That "shared appreciation plan" worked well for Pikake, which had 95 percent resident buyers, he said.
"This is definitely smart growth," said Neil Clendeninn, a Kaua'i architect and planner who is a smart growth supporter. He noted that plans for mixed types of housing could help ease Kaua'i's housing needs.
Streets in the development will be named after famous songs by Kaua'i composers, such as "Pua Olena" and "Kamalani," Haruki said.
One of the infrastructure improvements coming with the project will be increasing the volume of water from the Waiohi water treatment plant to 5 million gallons a day from its current 3 million. The $10 million plant was a joint project of Grove Farm and the Kaua'i County water department and won a GE "ecomagination" award for its incorporation of eco-friendly features.
Haruki pledged that the Wailani development will have a dual water system, with purified water for indoor uses and nonpotable water for landscaping uses.
Tresler said other green aspects of the development could include: "points" for residents who keep their home energy usage down, which might be redeemable for use of community electric vehicles to get around the "village"; a "smart" utility monitoring station that will help make the best use of water and electricity; and solar photovoltaic panels to generate onsite electricity.
Also potentially coming soon will be an industrial park next to the airport, makai of Kapule Highway.
The state agreed a year ago to buy 80 acres from Grove Farm, to which it plans to move the airports' rental car concessions and in turn increase airport parking. Completion of that deal will set in motion Grove Farm building roads and utilities for both the state-purchased parcel and an additional 30 acres the company will develop as a light industrial park, Tresler said.
Development of a second 140-acre quadrant of land northwest of the Ahukini/Kapule intersection would come later. It would likely include residential housing and a school, Haruki and Tresler said.