A planned community in Central Oahu took a big step forward after the Honolulu Planning Commission approved a zoning change that would allow developer Castle and Cooke to build its Koa Ridge project.
The commission unanimously approved the request to change a 576-acre parcel between Waipio and Mililani from restricted agricultural zoning to other uses, including residential, business and commercial mixed uses.
Dozens of people, including project supporters from the building and construction industries, jammed the small room for Wednesday's public hearing.
The decision followed a presentation by Castle and Cooke, followed by public testimony where a few more of those who testified favored the project.
Koa Ridge would include 3,500 new homes, as well as neighborhood commercial areas and parks, as well as a medical center for the area, which only has Wahiawa General Hospital. "The hospital is too small and too old, ad we definitely need new facilities," said Dr. Randall Suzuka.
Castle and Cooke said Koa Ridge will address a housing shortage on Oahu, and create 1,000 construction jobs and 2,300 permanent jobs. But opponents told the commission that they still have several concerns, including the possibility of increased traffic congestion.
"We're the worst traffic in the country, and it's going to add thousands more cars into the downstream merge between Ewa Beach and Honolulu. And they have no mitigation for that. There's nothing they can do about that," said opponent Ann Freed.
The Sierra Club of Hawaii also reiterated its position that the ag land should remain as it is. The environmental group has gone to court to try to stop the development. "The issue is currently in the appeals process, and the Sierra Club feels strongly that the courts will support the citizens' need for agricultural land," said Cielia Morris.
After more than two hours of presentations and testimony, the commission approved the zoning change without much discussion. The project now goes before the city council. If all goes according to plan, groundbreaking could happen next year, with the first homes ready in 2015.