KAPOLEI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 1,500 acres of former agricultural land in West O'ahu between Kapolei, Ewa, Waipahu and Kunia will now be re-zoned for the Ho'opili development, after Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 3 Wednesday morning.
The project represents the largest re-zoning effort to ever go before the City Council, and it was approved unanimously.
Despite concerns from opponents who fear the project will eliminate dwindling farmland and add even more traffic to an area that is heavily congested, the Mayor says Ho'opili is needed to address a critical affordable housing shortage on O'ahu.
"I believe we should follow the plan that was implemented back in the 1970s -- our general growth plan -- where 73% of all growth on this island would occur on the Ewa plain and Ho'opili is part of that. I signed the bill and I'm committed to making sure we have housing for that next generation of families," said Caldwell.
D.R. Horton-Schular Homes 11,750 unit Ho'opili project in West O'ahu has been nine years in the making.
The mix-use residential and commercial project, which will include five school sites, aims to break ground late next year and have its first homes ready for purchase in two to three years -- most will range from $300 to $700,000 dollars.
"We're gonna create a lot of construction jobs and we want all the construction workers who work on Ho'opili, that build Ho'opili, to be able to buy a house in Ho'opili," said Cameron Nekota, D.R. Horton Schuler Homes Vice President of the Ho'opili Development.
City officials approved Ho'opili's re-zoning request by requiring the developer to make 30% of the project, which is about 3,525 units, affordable housing -- that would be 140% of the average median income or less, which for a family of four based on 2014 guidelines would make a home available for $134,140.
"Those numbers vary year to year, but at the end of the day what the city council and mayor has now done is really add over 3,000 homes into the mix that are going to be at much lower prices than the median price that people have seen," said Nekota.
According to the Mayor, the city council also negotiated to ensure 225 units will be set aside for long-term rentals.
"No one has built affordable rentals without a lot of subsidies or tax credits and this is being built without any of this. This is a private sector initiative for the first time and I hope this model is repeated around this island. We need more longterm affordable rentals. It's a demand that hasn't been met at all and it's going to be addressed at some degree through Ho'opili," said Caldwell.
Project officials say it will also maintain green space in an area that has a rich agricultural tradition.
"I think what we have done is strike a nice balance between providing needed housing, but at the same time preserving a good chunk of the land for permanent agriculture. We have over 200 acres of Ho'opili that will remain in agriculture for the first really urban agriculture plan that Honolulu has ever seen on a meaningful scale," said Nekota.
Both city and Ho'opili officials say they understand critics concerns that the project will add to heavy traffic in the area, but they argue as a "live-work-play" development many folks won't have to leave to drive into town. Plus they cite improvements to H-1 and construction of the rail as ongoing efforts to mitigate impact.