State Ag, Transportation Departments Support Ho‘opili

Last month, the state Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation both announced support for Ho’opili, an 11,750-home, 1,554 acre proposed community development between Kapolei and Ewa.

The announcements came as a surprise to some. Back in 2009 when the project went through its first round of hearings before the Land Use Commission (LUC), both departments opposed the project, with the loss of prime farmland and an increase in traffic chief concerns among the community.

The owners of Aloun Farms, which currently houses the land that has been slated for Ho’opili, also announced its support for the development in January.

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An area of Aloun Farms that is slated for the Ho'opili development.

D.R. Horton-Schuler Division, the development company proposing Ho’opili, hopes that these announcements will help the project advance through the LUC.

“I hope it helps the progress of Ho’opili,” D.R. Horton vice president Cameron Nekota said. “What this really represents is five years of collaboration. We sat with those departments and worked through the issues that they had.”

After the project was deemed deficient by the LUC in 2009, D.R. Horton came back last year with an amended petition and has been participating in another series of LUC meetings. The amended petition includes the incorporation of urban agriculture, which will include 159 acres for commercial farms, eight acres for community gardens, and 84 acres for home gardens.

Department of Agriculture chairman Russell Kokubun said that these amendments in large part caused the shift in opinion on the project.

“The new proposal incorporates an interesting idea … the urban agriculture initiative,” Kokubun said, explaining that the concept will allow them to incorporate agricultural activities into the development.

Kokubun added that another deciding factor in his decision to support Ho’opili was that other farmlands recently became available in Wahiawa and nearby areas.

But Ho’opili remains a contentious issue within the community.

Dr. Kioni Dudley, president of the nonprofit Friends of Makakilo, argues that the land that D.R. Horton has set aside for agriculture within Ho’opili is not the same high quality as the land that will be developed. In particular, three gullies have been identified as commercial farm areas, and questions have been raised as to their farming suitability.

“That area is filled with crops, and crops are all around,” Dudley said regarding the farmland that will be developed. “But (the gullies) have just never been a place where you can grow things … It’s just impossible that they are going to have a farm here. We are definitely not talking about prime farmland at all.”

The subject of traffic also remains a contested issue.

“For Ewa residents, their only way out is to go up Fort Weaver Road,” Dudley said. If Ho’opili is built, “when those residents go out, all 12,000 cars are going to be in front of them on the freeway.”

D.R. Horton argues that Ho’opili has the capacity to create 7,000 permanent jobs within the development, which could decrease commuter traffic.

The next LUC meetings on the project are scheduled for March 1 and 2. Nonprofit Save Oahu Farmland Alliance, also headed by Dudley, hosts two events next week to raise awareness about Ho’opili. On Feb. 21, the group hosts a Tractor Parade through downtown starting at noon. On Feb. 25, the group will rally at the Capitol at 8:30 a.m. and lead a march to Kaka’ako Beach Park, where it will gather for Farm Day activities from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.