Proposed 350-foot Waikiki tower spurs concerns about highrise sprawl

Proposed 350-foot Waikiki tower spurs concerns about highrise sprawl
(Image: Best Hospitality LLC)
(Image: Best Hospitality LLC)

WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Community members say a proposed 350-foot condo-hotel tower in Waikiki could spur highrise sprawl in Hawaii's no.1 tourist destination.

Developers are seeking City Council approval for the tower in an area that's currently zoned for 25 feet.

"The concern is once you start, where do you stop?" said Stefany Sofos, Hawaii property expert.

The proposed site for Park Kalia Waikiki is along Kalakaua Avenue adjacent to Fort DeRussy Beach Park.

It would replace the former Kyo-ya restaurant and a parking garage. Both of the existing two-story buildings fall within the 25 foot height limit that was set back in the 1970s.

"The elders before us, 40 years ago, saw that if we keep developing we're going to develop ourselves out of Waikiki and that we had to preserve some of what we had," said Sofos.

City officials say the developers behind Park Kalia Waikiki are challenging that land use ordinance, claiming that lowering the height limit illegally devalued their property.

"This applicant is actually making the argument that what the city did in 1976 amounts to a taking -- by taking the height limit back then down to 25 feet where it is today," said Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who also chairs the city's Zoning and Planning Committee.

In a 15-to-0 vote, the Waikiki Neighborhood Board voted unanimously to oppose the project.

Chairman Bob Finley worries if the City Council approves the 325-foot exemption, it will set a dangerous precedent.

"If we go up to 350 feet here, we might as well shred that map, because all of the other areas that could be revitalized in Waikiki would instantly say the same thing, 'Let's go to 350 feet'. If we build 350 feet all over Waikiki we take away the little charm we have left," said Finley.

In a statement sent to Hawaii News Now, developers say the design "implements the city's vision for Waikiki described in the Primary Urban Center Development Plan. Specifically, that vision seeks private reinvestment in Waikiki and allow it to remain the state's most popular tourist destination."

Developers say during construction and after completion, Park Kalia Waikiki will provide 110 full-time equivalent jobs.

The owners, Best Hospitality LLC, say the project will provide 170 additional hotel rooms in Waikiki -- an increase that will help replace some of the more than 2,600 units being lost to renovations and condo or timeshare conversions since 2003.

Waikiki Improvement Association President Rick Egged says that's critical. He added that n the past, height requirements in Waikiki were adjusted based on proposed projects.

"If you look at the zoning just right across the street, buildings are allowed to be 300 feet, so it really would fit into the surrounding zoning," Egged said.

The association's board voted to support the project.

City officials say the exemption request, which is 14 times the height currently allowed, is substantial.

Anderson will ask if the project's goals can be achieved with a shorter building.

"It will be very important to hear from the stakeholders in Waikiki what they're positions are and again, until their positions are made public in the committee hearing process -- it's really too early to say what the committee will do," he said.

Meanwhile, the city Department of Planning and Permitting received an environmental assessment on the project, but has asked developers to complete a more thorough environmental impact statement. The EIS is expected to take about six months and will include an opportunity for more public input on the proposal.

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