Sierra Club Expands Its Koa Ridge Protest

Sierra Club of Hawaii has begun a radio advertising campaign to protest a planned housing development at Koa Ridge.

Being developed by Castle & Cooke, the project will add 3,500 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space to an area adjacent to Central Oahu Regional Park. The commercial space will include a community center, retail stores, restaurants, a medical center and a 150-room extended-stay hotel. Wahiawa General Hospital also is expected to move to the new site.

According to Sierra Club, Koa Ridge and other development planned for the area could lead to two-hour commute times from Mililani to Ala Moana and the destruction of valuable farmland.

A City Council Planning Committee meeting Sept. 12 gave preliminary approval for the rezoning of the property. At that meeting, Castle & Cooke consultant Keith Kurahashi said the project is expected to create 2,300 permanent jobs, with 1,100 at the medical center. A second read and a public hearing was held Oct. 9. A third reading must be held before the Council can vote on the final version of the bill.

The schedule for that final vote has not yet been scheduled.

“Polls consistently show that our members and the public at large rate farmland preservation and traffic as two of their top political concerns,” said Anthony Aalto, chairman of the Oahu chapter of the Sierra Club. “We anticipate this huge project would lead to complete and utter gridlock on both H2 and H1.”

As part of its design plan, Castle & Cooke will spend $100 million on traffic solutions including improvements to the Waipio Interchange and construction of a new H2 freeway interchange at the Pineapple Road Overpass. Other improvements to city roadways also are expected.

Bruce Barrett, Castle & Cooke executive vice president of residential operations, said the development may create a slight, unintended rise in highway traffic, but that the improvements will be sufficient to handle traffic flow in the immediate area.

“The improvements we are making will improve regional traffic conditions in and around Koa Ridge,” he said.

A second part of the plan, said Barrett, is to create area jobs that will reduce traffic heading toward Oahu’s urban core.

“We project 2,300 full-time jobs once community is built out. That’s a ratio of two jobs for every rooftop, and that’s part of smart growth planning in terms of trying to create employment centers to help offset and mitigate people just going in one direction.”

A vote in favor of the development by the full City Council won’t likely result in the immediate start of construction. Sierra Club has filed an appeal with the Intermediate Court of Appeals to have the state

Land Use Commission (LUC) overturn its decision to reclassify the land. Sierra Club director Robert Harris said he expects the decision to take at least eight months, with the case being appealed to the state Supreme Court no matter who wins the appeal. An ongoing case already is with the state Supreme Court over a 2010 LUC approval of Koa Ridge. A decision is expected this year.

If the development gets approved – and likely a favorable ruling by the court – construction could begin in 2015 with the first homes ready for sale the following year.

The housing would be a mix of multi-family and single-family homes with 30 percent affordable housing units pursuant to city affordable housing guidelines.