Analysis

Watered Down

What's changed about the Ko‘olau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan over the past 15 years?

in Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan in Envision Laie

In 1997 and 1998 the Ko‘olau Loa community came together in a series of meetings that established the primary values, concerns and vision for the region that residents held. This information was then used to craft Bill 67 (1999), the original Ko‘olau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan (KLSCP). Almost 15 years later, the primary focus of the plan remains the same. However, a large amount of the original language has been struck from the current plan and replaced with language that can only be described as watered down.

Specific protections and concerns are lumped together into much more general summaries which, while still adhering to the general sentiments of the original, could also allow for a much more loose interpretation of what residents originally intended for their community. 

There are currently eight community plans for the eight different regions of O‘ahu. Only two plans are designated “development plans,” (‘Ewa and the Primary Urban Center), while the other six (East Honolulu, Central O‘ahu, Wai‘anae, North Shore, Ko‘olau Poko and Ko‘olau Loa) ares are designated “sustainable communities plans” to reflect the relatively stable conditions in those regions and the consequent focus on supporting existing populations rather than expanding them.

Each plan is intended to reflect the unique character and needs of their respective regions. Of primary concern to residents in Ko‘olau Loa (both then and now) is how the KLSCP intends to balance necessary development of the region’s economic centers and affordable housing and infrastructure needs with environmental protection, historic and cultural preservation and maintenance of the region’s rural, “old Hawai‘i” feel and individual community identities. The communities in question are Kahuku, Lā‘ie, Hau‘ula, Punalu‘u, Kahana and Ka‘a‘awa.

These alterations appear in a range of guises. Everything from changing the date through which the plan will be in effect to reflect the 15-year delay from Bill 67 to now, to much more significant changes between versions, as is the case with Mālaekahana.

The original plan expressly lists Mālaekahana as one of the areas between communities that should remain open and undeveloped—partly to protect the identities of the two adjacent towns (Kahuku and Lā‘ie) and partly to prevent sprawl and town-to-town development.

The current draft includes a great deal of what is proposed in the “Envision Lā‘ie” plan, which would double enrollment at BYU Hawaii and result in subsequent expansion of the campus, student and faculty housing, the Polynesian Cultural Center and even a light-industrial/tech park next to the campus. As a result of this inclusion, the current draft of KLSCP now calls for Mālaekahana to be transformed into an affordable housing and commercial base to support BYU development. This would doubtless result in a joining of Kahuku and Lā‘ie, in direct opposition to the original stance of the community.

This is not to say that a tech park, an expanded BYU Hawaii and more affordable housing is necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it is the watering down of the original voice of the community within the plan that is the likeliest cause of current community opposition to what might have otherwise been a relatively uncontentious community plan (especially when compared to the development plans in ‘Ewa and the Primary Urban Center).

The danger lies more in the slippery slope this precedent sets. If the future of Mālaekahana can be so drastically altered because of BYU’s development plans, what other changes can that watered-down language allow?

For instance, the original plan would have protected the Kahuku Golf Course from being changed from anything but a municipal, community park. But with a Chinese company proposing to buy the land the course sits on, just as the new KLSCP is being moved through to the Honolulu City Council Zoning and Planning Committee, that protection might cease to exist within the plan.

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