Promise of new housing construction around rail line caught up in contentious height debate

Honolulu’s free interim rail opening was pretty popular this weekend with nearly 72,000 riders over four and a half days.
Published: Jul. 5, 2023 at 9:50 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 6, 2023 at 4:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu’s free interim rail opening was popular this weekend with nearly 72,000 riders over four and a half days.

Attendance fell drastically Tuesday as fares kicked in and people returned to work.

But now, with the first segment operating, the question is whether rail’s other promise for new housing development is coming true.

In Waipahu, conflict has tied up one big project.


From the Skyline guideway, it’s easy to see the potential. Large lots and low-rise older buildings near gleaming rail stations, promising the neighborhoods transportation options and new customers.

Councilman Augie Tulba said he sees struggling businesses in Waipahu hoping rail development can revive them. “By, you know, rejuvenating our area and giving it a reface and bringing a whole new Waipahu but with the Waipahu essence,” Tulba said.

But one of the first projects at the current home of Times Supermarket on Farrington Highway is tied up.

Landowner Kamehameha Schools is proposing 500 affordable and senior housing units in three towers, two of them 200 feet tall, three times higher than the 60-foot limit set in the community’s Transit-Oriented Development Plan.

Richard Oshiro is secretary of the Waipahu Neighborhood Board and said many residents object to the height of the proposed towers, especially after participating in the TOD planning process.


“If developers come in and just say, well, because we can go triple the height limit, we’re going to do that,” Oshiro said. “So you know that’s really unfortunate because it’s like not having any planning in place.”

The project is eligible for exemption from the TOD plan because it offers housing for people at 60% of the Area’s Median Income. The height debate seems to have stalled the project for months.

Kamehameha Schools and its developer, Highridge Costa Development, defended the heights in a Neighborhood Board meeting 15 months ago, saying it was the only way to fit together the affordable housing, retail, parking, and open space the community needs.

Serge Krivatsy, Kamehameha Schools Senior Director of Planning and Development, said many are willing to accept the high-rises because of the housing options.

“We hear heights an issue with some people, and then other people aren’t as bothered by the heights. So that’s where we’re trying to find a balance here,” Krivatsy told the board in April of last year.

For the affordable and senior housing and retail revival, the area councilman supports the proposal.

“And hopefully, this will keep residents in Waipahu so that they can live, work, and play,” Tulba said.

But he also said it also highlights the need for residents to be aware of big plans heading their way, and Oshiro agreed.

“So, I think the communities along the rail line obviously just have to be diligent and scrutinize all of the projects that will be coming their way,” Oshiro said.

Kamehameha Schools said in a statement that they’re “excited about revitalizing this area, transforming it into a safe and walkable community, reestablishing its role as a piko or city center for Waipahu.”

The statement continued:

“We plan to keep the community updated on the progress of Keawalau, which is a mixed-use residential project that will help meet the need for more affordable homes for kama’āina across the state. Our vision for Keawalau is centered on delivering over 500 new affordable homes for ‘ohana and kūpuna while also focusing on creating a retail and commercial experience that highlights businesses and amenities which align with and effectively cater to the needs of the community. The rail transit system and improvements to transportation and access will transform and impact the surrounding community and businesses.”