Koa Ridge: Construction or Destruction?

hammerCastle and Cooke Hawaii is a development company that specializes in residential and commercial real estate. They are known for constructing some of the premier neighborhoods statewide such as Mililani, Makakilo, and Kapolei, along with commercial businesses like Dole Plantation, Dole Cannery and Mililani Tech Park. Castle and Cooke Hawaii now have a new community development plan underway called Koa Ridge.

The new Koa Ridge community estimated at about $2.2 billion is to be constructed along a 575 acre ridge located in Central Oahu, across from Costco in Waipio and west of the H-2 Freeway. The plan for this new community will include 3,500 single and multi-family homes, a neighborhood school, parks and community centers, a prospective medical center, a retail district, as well as a possible “extended stay” hotel. After the initial build phase in Mililani, they also plan to build an additional 1,500 homes as a compliment to Koa Ridge that will be located in the Wahiawa division. See here for details. While this project is not necessarily new-having been in the planning stages from as early as 2003-Castle and Cooke Hawaii will now encounter the next step of the process by attending a hearing with the City and County of Honolulu’s Zoning and Planning Committee to gain approval for the next phase of their planning. If approved, Castle and Cooke will break ground sometime in 2014, with the first homes expected to be ready by 2016. While this may be an exciting time for Castle and Cooke, there are many underlying issues that I feel should be addressed to the general public. Environmental sensitivity, traffic congestion, and overpopulation are just a few issues that I will explore here,

The first issue regarding environmental sensitivity stems from Castle and Cooke’s central idea for the development of Koa Ridge. While the master plan has been revised many times over the years, the focal point of the community vision seems to have remained. They have been planning Koa Ridge as a pedestrian and bicycle oriented community to encourage low-impact activities while promoting environmental sensitivity by creating a greener approach, which is the core underlying aspect for this build. However, the fact is that this project will take away over 500 acres of prime agricultural farmlands. The soil at Koa Ridge is comprised of a soil grade that is regarded as very high quality soil, suitable for harvesting crops, which is currently being utilized by Aloun Farms. Castle and Cooke have addressed this issue by developing plans for the relocation of Aloun Farms to a 667 acre area north of Wahiawa that is owned by their sister company Dole Foods. But is this really a solution? Relocation will not bring back the multiple acres of farmland that will vanish during the construction. Food self-sufficiency in Hawaii has been on a decline, especially in relation to the steady increase of industrialization throughout our islands. It seems bad enough that approximately 34% of a 2,000 acre designation of Hawaiian Homelands is being used for military use. Every part of the island has a unique agricultural layout and stability, with no two areas being exactly the same. If you were to assess the various places around the island where farmlands still exist, you don’t generate a lot of results. At this rate, how long will it take for us to completely eliminate all farmland options on Oahu? If this happens, we will no longer be equipped with capabilities to self-sustain a food source. This will result in all supplies needing to be imported into our state subsequently raising taxes in an already high-tax state. So what exactly do they mean about environmental sustainability and sensitivity? What could be more sustainable then using available lands designated for farming to grow crops that help and support our local food supply?

The second issue to examine is traffic congestion. Hawaii residents are unfortunately plagued with having some of the worst traffic in the nation. Being a resident of Mililani, as well as a daily commuter into Honolulu, I only know too well the difficulties associated with heavy traffic. My daily commute can be as long as an hour and a half on a good day, but can be severely increased depending on the flow of traffic, especially if there are any stalls or accidents on the commute, which happens quite frequently. Although Castle and Cooke has proposed a $50 million investment for improvements to Ka Uka Boulevard and to construct a new interchange at the Pineapple Road overpass, I’m not convinced that this is guaranteed to make things better. Mililani-Mauka (a production of Castle and Cooke) as an example was constructed with a serious design flaw in regards to traffic. This compliment to Mililani Town has only one way in and out. This has huge repercussions on the residents of Mililani-Mauka by adding on additional travel time just to make it onto the freeway. This will also be the case when the first houses are constructed in 2016. The only route viable to get in and out of Koa ridge will be the Ka Uka Boulevard overpass, until they can construct the interchange suggested. However, this will be implemented after the development of Koa Ridge, with completion possibly to be years later. This may not be of immediate concern to residents living outside of Central Oahu, but it should be brought to the public’s attention, especially if there are prospective buyers planning to move into this new development. Anything that can affect traffic, even in the slightest ways becomes a huge concern for me.

Lastly, Oahu’s population has been steadily rising. According to the latest Census for Honolulu County in 2012, the population increased 2.4% from 953,207 in 2010 to 976,372. So the needs for new homes to accommodate a growing population is apparent, but are they affordable to local residents? Castle and Cooke has stated that these new homes will offer a wide range of housing types and prices for residents of different incomes ranges and stages of life. However, these claims are not supported with evidence to back up these claims. With our state suffering already high taxes and an inflating economy local families may not be able to afford these new homes. This could result in an influx of people coming in that will not only worsen traffic, but will overpopulate our school systems, and take away jobs form Oahu residents. The reduced number of available jobs will push more and more families into poverty, reinforcing the fact that Hawaii residents will not be able to afford the homes that are “built for them.”

Castle and Cooke have made many claims, many of which go unsupported which leaves many more questions than answers. It is my suggestion that Castle and Cooke Hawaii take into consideration all the concerns that local residents may have with the progression of this project and have supporting evidence to reassure their claims when they address these concerns. Secondly, I would hope that Castle and Cooke will realize the impacts and affects their developments could have on the future of Oahu. Instead of eliminating valuable resources for the construction of new communities, they should start a project that helps fund the state for immediate issues such as dismal road and freeway conditions or failing infrastructures. These issues need attention, but instead of addressing these issues we merely “sweep our problems under the rug.” We can’t maintain positive growth for the future, if we choose to ignore the problems we now face.

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