Castle & Cooke needs approval to build its $2.2 billion community on agricultural lands
Castle & Cooke has asked the state Land Use Commission for permission to convert agricultural lands north of Costco in Waipio into its $2.2 billion master-planned communities Koa Ridge Makai and Waiawa.
The developer, which topped off a 16,000-home, 40-year project in Mililani in 2008, now seeks to reclassify nearly 768 acres in Waipio and Waiawa from an agricultural to an urban designation. Such a ruling would allow Castle & Cooke to move forward on its long-stalled project, which has been planned since the 1990s.
Koa Ridge calls for 3,500 housing units and 500,000 square feet of commercial development, an elementary school, parks, recreation centers and churches to be built on about 575 acres makai of the H-2 freeway. At Waiawa, Castle & Cooke would build another 1,500 homes on 191 acres mauka of the H-2 near Ka Uka Boulevard. The development, which would offer homes from $200,000 to $1 million, would bring more affordable housing to Central Oahu, create some 2,500 jobs and create millions in state and county revenue, said Bruce Barrett, executive vice president of Castle & Cooke.
If the commission agrees to the request, the developer still must go before the city to get subdivision approval, but it will have met all major hurdles, as the LUC approved Castle & Cooke’s environmental impact statement in June. With all approvals, the company could break ground at the end of 2012.
A series of public hearings, which could take months and no doubt will reopen old wounds and mend some old fences, began yesterday. The LUC tentatively approved the project in 2002; however, community opposition and legal battles sent Castle & Cooke back to the drawing board after a state judge ruled that a formal environmental review was necessary before the subdivision, with its planned medical and commercial development, could be built.
This time around, members of the Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Neighborhood Board and Wahiawa General Hospital favor the development along with some residents and businesses in the region.
Central Oahu needs new homes, and its existing businesses need more support, said Tom Burba, general manager of Costco, which is near the development.
"A lot of businesses and restaurants in Waipio Business Park are suffering. My sales are down 20 percent," Burba said. "I need more members. This is a good project in a great area, and it would be a good thing for businesses."
However, the Sierra Club of Hawaii and the Mililani/Waipio/Malemanu Neighborhood Board are opposed to the development, which they say is a misuse of prime agricultural lands on Oahu and could create ground-water shortages and crowded schools and roadways. Both groups, which have been granted intervener status by the LUC, will have a chance during proceedings over the next several days and possibly months to cross-examine Castle & Cooke and to present their own position.
"Our main objection is the loss of important ag land, particularly when Oahu is talking about food self-sufficiency," said Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii. "This project, which represents over 5 percent of the total ag land left on Oahu, is equal to 16 percent of all the ag land lost in the last 18 years."
Others, such as retired Lt. Col. Ann Freed, a member of the Mililani/Waipio/Malemanu Neighborhood Board, have said that they are most concerned about how the development will affect the quality of life for existing Central Oahu and North Shore residents.
"This kind of growth is like a cancer," Freed said. "Instead of keeping the density in town, they are spreading it out all over the island. The second-city concept didn’t work in Kapolei, and it won’t work here."
Castle & Cooke has created a broad community "visioning" group to discuss community needs and offer solutions, said project manager Dean Minakami.
"We took the best of Mililani and addressed the current needs of Central Oahu residents for a live, work and play community," Minakami said.
Residents would have fewer reasons to leave the "villagelike" development, which would have a central gathering place, a school, parks and bike paths, medical facilities and nearby shopping and entertainment, he said.
"We wanted to create an environment that draws people to the community and makes them want to stay there," Barrett said, adding that "smart growth" will control traffic.
The company also has offered to mitigate agricultural impacts by relocating Aloun Farms to 335 acres on fallow Dole Plantation land, Minakami said.