Wai'anae coast residents face some of the longest commutes on the island, with town-bound drivers spending up to three hours in gridlock each day. The snaky trail of flashing brake lights on Farrington Highway at the beginning and end of the workday is a daily reminder for them of where the jobs are, and are not, on the island. And, according to a recent report by the City and County Permitting and Planning Department, the projected future offers little hope of change.
The Wai'anae coast is the only district on the island likely to see a decrease in employment by the year 2030.
But Tropic Land, LLC—who owns a parcel of agricultural land in the back of Lualualei Valley in Nanakuli—is offering to stem that economic tide by converting 96 of its 236 acres into a light industrial park. The plan currently consists of 39 lots, which vary in size from one to two acres.
"It would be ideal for trucking companies, distribution warehouses, agricultural support and storage, [and] kennels—businesses of that nature," said Arick Yanagihara, project head for the initiative. "It's not a heavy industrial plant like at Campbell [Industrial Park]. The zoning we're looking at doesn't allow for any saw mills, chemical manufacturing, things like that."
Mr. Yanagihara said there is a need for this type of industrial area in the district, and the Nanakuli Neighborhood Council agrees. In July of 2008, it unanimously supported a proposed amendment of the Wai'anae Sustainable Communities Plan to rezone the parcel for industrial use. The amendment is the first major step in rezoning the property.
"Keeping country country isn't working," said Patty Teruya, chairwoman of the Nanakuli Neighborhood Council. "We need economic development so that we can provide jobs for the people here."
Demand is there
"There are already 25 people who have a serious interest in buying or leasing units," Mr. Yanagihara said. In addition, over 590 signatures from residents and businesses have been collected that support the project. The bounty of support is because, for many business owners on the Wai'anae coast, the current zoning layout is compromising their growth.
The lack of industrial space has many people running their businesses illegally from home. "A few people have been fined, and others have had to lay people off," said Joe Lapilio, executive director for the Wai'anae Coast Coalition, a non-profit organization that advocates for businesses on the leeward side.
"And so there are a whole lot of people who leave their homes in Wai'anae to conduct business elsewhere when it could be done here," Mr. Lapilio said. "There is just not a lot of space available for growing businesses … so we need this [development] very much."
The light industrial park would not only provide the necessary space for burgeoning businesses, according to Mr. Yanagihara. These lots would be cost-effective.
"If you look at Campbell and Kapolei, they're selling at about 40 dollars per square foot," he said. "And market conditions can change, but we're looking at a target price of around 20 dollars per square foot. We want to make sure businesses there can afford these units."
And with more companies based in Nanakuli, according to Yanagihara, there will be more jobs and fewer cars congesting the two-lane Farrington Highway during rush hour.
Also figuring into the Tropic Land's development plan is space for a business development incubator. Owned and managed by either the state or a non-profit, the development incubator would offer reduced rent as well as a range of technical support, from marketing to accounting services, to growing businesses. "I want to make sure this idea is seen through to completion," Lapilio said. "And I want to make sure it remains locally focused."
Not everyone agrees
Amid the strong push for commercial economic growth, there is resistance from some in the community over the proposed development.
Some feel that undue development hurts the region's farming industry and history.
"People fail to see the productivity of the area in the past," said William Aila, a lifelong Waianae resident. "There were watermelons and other truck crops like tomatoes, lettuces, and green onions grown there."
Yet others say the ground is less than ideal for farming.
"Maybe you can grow watermelons there," said Mr. Keli'i, "but that's about it. I've done my research and asked my kupuna. The soil is not rich enough to support other farming."
Mr. Yanagihara also explained that tests show there isn't enough nitrogen in the soil to sustain the crops.
And while farming has played a large role for the Wai'anae coast in the past, it is no longer the case today. "We have a bunch of agricultural plots that are just sitting there. And Hawaiian homestead has ag [sic] land, and there's only one guy farming," Mr. Keli'i said. "And the kids today. I have friends who work with them in career development in the high schools. They don't want to be farmers."
Mr. Keli'i said that he understands the importance of agriculture, citing that he owns a farm in Wai'anae. But he says he thinks this development is the right idea. "We're talking about community sustainability here. Let's get real about this."
And still, some believe there is political maneuvering afoot.
"That disposal guy, he wants to convert Tropic Land into an industrial zoning so he can get a special permit to run his landfill," said community activist Lucy Gay.
The guy in question is Clyde Kaneshiro, who is an investor with Tropic Land LLC, Ms. Gay explained. He also has a stake in an agricultural parcel immediately south of the property called Nanakuli B. Kaneshiro proposed to convert Nanakuli B into a landfill, but a definitive no from the Nanakuli Council last year tabled his efforts.
"He's laying low now so he can gain support from his neighbors later on," she said, referring to Tropic Land.
But Mr. Yanagihara refuted the idea. "It actually hurts him [Kaneshiro] to support Tropic Land's development," he said. "What business is going to want a landfill next door? It's easier to build something like that if the area around it is agricultural, not industrial."
"We are very aware of what's happening behind the scenes," said Mr. Keli'i. "And they know where we stand on the landfills. They know we will fight them if they try to pull this snake under us."
Council sets the rules
The Nanakuli Council has not taken a back seat in the drafting process.
"We are dictating to them what we want, not the other way around," said Mr. Keli'i.
In exchange for the council's resolution to support the proposed industrial park, the developer has agreed to several stipulations:
- There will be no golf courses, strip clubs, liquor establishments, housing developments, or landfills built on the site.
- Tropic LLC would contribute one million dollars to the community benefits program for the Ma'ili and Nanakuli communities.
- An Environmental Impact Statement will be completed covering traffic, infrastructure, and other pertinent issues.
- Tropic LLC will go green on energy consumption.
- Tropic Land, LCC, will be sensitive to cultural practices and places and will work with Nanakuli or Leeward Coast residents' cultural monitors.
- Tropic LLC will find an appropriate permanent name for the project site, acceptable to the community and offer community involvement on names for the site, and will include the word "Nanakuli," in naming the site.
The transition from paper promises to palatable action is being kept under close scrutiny.
"Developers like to give us this song and dance," said Mr. Keli'i, "but it's the accountability factor we're looking at."
"We're keeping an eye on them (Tropic Land)," said Ms. Teruya, chair of the Nanakuli Neighborhood Council. "But, so far, they've done their homework and have been very transparent with the community."
Tropic Land, LLC is currently preparing its Environment Impact Statement (EIS) while it awaits the city's planning and permitting department's decision on whether it will amend the Wai'anae Sustainable Communities Plan to allow for rezoning. The State Land Use Commission will also have to approve a zoning change on its end. "It's a very long process with lots of paperwork," Mr. Yanagihara said, "but we hope to break ground on the project sometime in 2010."-----