Local Connections: Stacy Loe and Kaneohe - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Local Connections: Stacy Loe and Kaneohe

Sen. Jill Tokuda Sen. Jill Tokuda
Paul Tam Paul Tam
Rep. Pono Chong Rep. Pono Chong
Gene Yong Gene Yong
Kaneohe Bay Kaneohe Bay

By Stacy Loe - bio | email

KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly 35,000  people live there, and I'm one of them. Centuries ago Native Hawaiians treasured it. Kamehameha the 1st gave his highest chiefs land in Kaneohe. Today it's still rich in natural beauty, but the town's business center runs along a busy highway. And therein lies the problem for residents who don't drive.

Kaneohe's roots lie in agriculture. From ancient times an abundance of rainfall and rich soil made it a natural place for crops. In the early 1900's pineapple, then sugar and finally rice was the primary industry.

Today kaneohe is mostly a residential community, nestled in between the spectacular Koolau mountain range and majestic Kaneohe Bay.

"Step out of the Koolau's whether it be from the Pali, Likelike or H-3 it's like the weight is lifted off your shoulders" said State Senator Jill Tokuda.

 And families are surrounded by nature. There's the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, 400 acres of lush land, surrounding a 32-acre lake. My son has been feeding the fish and ducks there since he was a toddler. It's one of our family's favorite spots.

Another is Heeia Kea pier. And that's because my husband and I have a boat here. It's nothing fancy, but on nice weekends we like to go for a sail in the bay or motor out to the Kaneohe sandbar when the tide is low and the sand is exposed.Many say it's the best beach off the island.

The natural beauty is timeless, but that is not the case with the town. Many of the homes and businesses are 40 to 50 years old, and it shows. A recent survey found residents like the aging feel.

"It's still a lot of mom-and-pop small businesses and so that adds to the flavor of it" said State Representative Pono Chong.

But they don't necessarily like the layout. Most of the shops, line a one-and-a-half mile stretch of busy Kamehameha highway. And getting from one place to another can be dangerous for anyone trying to cross the street. Paul Tam says that's why so many in the community drive, even short distances.

"Even if we have to travel a block rather than just walking and enjoying it, we jump in our car, because that's the way it is right now, it's sad but it's the way it is' said Tam.

"You have a major thoroughfare here and you have Safeway and other stores here you have the post office and the mall and it's not a very safe place for people to cross the street or to be able do errands at one time. They literally drive in their car and go, and as you can see it's a very busy thoroughfare" said Tokuda.

With a third of the population over 65 or under 16 years old, The Bus or walking may be their only way to get around.

Now there's a push to renovate the busiest part of Kaneohe to make it safer and more connected for pedestrians it's all in the Kaneohe town plan, a $120,000 study six years in the making that's in the final stages. The plan focuses on beautifying both sides of Kamehameha Highway near Windward Mall.

"One of the things we are suggesting is to convert some of the parking areas into landscaped areas that are shaded, there are landscaped buffers between the walkways that are wide enough for people to stroll pass each other comfortably" said Gene Yong of Belt Collins.

What would it look like? Wider walkways, more trees, an outdoor stage, pavilions and fountains. And a new and improved version of  Kawa Street, behind the post office and next to the mall. The total cost is between five and ten million dollars.

This is what Windward Mall's parking lot would look like with wider walkways more trees, an outdoor stage, pavillions and fountains.

"What we've tried to do is highlight opportunities and possibilities that may not have been evident beforehand" said Yong.

But turning the vision into reality will be challenging. Three different landowners, Kamehameha schools, the Yim family and the City and County  would have to sign on and pitch in millions. And right now, with money tight, no one sees it as a priority.

"Money is going to be one of the obstacles at least in the short term. But I think it provides the framework for generations" said Chong.

And Kaneohe's potential to be prettier and more connected for generations of families to enjoy. The final draft of the Kaneohe town plan is now before the city's Department of Planning and Permitting. From there, the consultant says the study could just sit on a shelf or become the blueprint for building something. It'll be up to lawmakers or landowners to make it happen.

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