HONOLULU HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Land Use Commission gave its approval Thursday to reclassifying 575 acres of agricultural land in central Oahu so a master planned community with 3,500 homes can be built.
Castle and Cooke hopes to build its Koa Ridge Makai development across Ka Uka Boulevard from the Waipio Costco. In addition to the homes, 30% of which must be in the "affordable" range, the project would include retail space, a medical complex, schools, and a hotel.
At the commission hearing people voiced concern about the loss of agricultural land and added traffic congestion.
"I'd be the first one to tell you that we need jobs and the economic stimulus and housing. I appreciate all those things very much, but I think at the end of the day there's a price to pay for all of this," said Land Use Commission chairman Vladimir Devens.
Devens was the only commission member to vote against the project. The need for more housing won over the other seven commissioners.
"This petitioner is committed to building homes primarily for local residents, first time families, not for the luxury buyer. Policemen, firemen, teachers would have an opportunity to own homes at Koa Ridge," said commission member Kyle Chock.
Castle and Cooke is working with the Department of Transportation to mitigate traffic congestion and has made arrangements to move the farm that is on the land now to a place where the fields can be expanded.
"We have the same concerns about ag and we have agreed to relocate the current ag tenants to lands, make those available and they'd actually have the opportunity to expand their farming operations. And we do have an agreement with Department of Transportation to handle highway improvements and roadway improvements to help mitigate the concerns on traffic," said Castle & Cooke executive vice president Bruce Barrett.
The Sierra Club is not satisfied. Robert Harris, the director of the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club calls Koa Ridge the "epitome of urban sprawl."
"When we're importing 85 to 90% of our state's food, it's absurd to pave over land that has been consistently and profitably providing food for Oahu," Harris added.
While the commission has given its verbal go-ahead Thursday, it'll meet again October 15 to review written details and give final approval to the Makai portion of the Koa Ridge development.
Then the matter will go to the city so it can consider the zoning change. Castle & Cooke expects that process to take 6 to 9 months.
A second part of the project, the 191-acre Koa Ridge Waiawa (or Castle & Cooke Waiawa), has not yet received approval from the Land Use Commission. Questions about infrastructure need to be answered before the 1,500 homes planned for that part of the development get the green light.
If all goes according to Castle and Cooke's timetable, construction at the Makai site will begin late next year and the first homes will be finished in late 2012 or early 2013.