Planned Kakaako tower draws wide support

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

A proposed luxury condominium tower in Kakaako called Vida at 888 Ala Moana had to bedesigned to avoid a Native Hawaiian burial site, but the project doesn’t appear to be facing any significant challenges following a public hearing Wednesday.

MKVida LLC, a partnership between local development firms Kobayashi Group and The MacNaughton Group, is proposing the 39-story tower with 265 units projected to sell for $900,000 to $4.7 million.

On Wednesday, project representatives presented details of the plan to the board of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, the state agency regulating development in Kakaako.

The agency, which is considering a development permit for Vida, received public testimony heavily in favor of the planned tower, which the developer said conforms to all HCDA development rules.

One potential issue was historic human burials, or iwi kupuna, that are not uncommon in Kakaako where much of the land long ago was sandy and closer to the sea before land reclamation changes.

The Vida site is on the mauka side of Ala Moana Boulevard bordering Koula Street and a closed-off portion of Auahi Street — 3.4 acres owned by Kamehameha Schools and occupied by Cutter automobile dealerships.

An archeological survey discovered 10 burials in one area on the makai/Diamond Head corner of the parcel. The developer designed the tower away from this area, which would become 19,000 square feet of landscaped open space including a protected area over the graves.

The Oahu Island Burial Council approved the preservation plan Wednesday after considering input from recognized cultural descendents of iwi in Kakaako.

The State Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources also is expected to weigh in on the preservation plan, though that does not prevent the HCDA from deciding on the development permit at a hearing scheduled for Nov. 25 at noon.

The HCDA received testimony overwhelmingly in support of Vida, including an endorsement from the Ala Moana/Kakaako Neighborhood Board. The agency received 87 written expressions of support, including a significant number from individuals tied to the construction industry or the project. About half of the letters were form letters from individuals and business owners including principals of Roberts Hawaii and the Panya restaurant chain. Six people also testified in person Wednesday to support Vida.

Gerald Kim, an orthodontist who lives in the Pacifica Honolulu condo tower in Kakaako and said he has no financial connections to the developer or Kamehameha Schools, said in written testimony that Vida will produce new homes needed on Oahu.

“I strongly feel that the Vida project will help to alleviate the growing housing shortage and allow local professionals such as myself the opportunity to live near the business center of our island,”he said.

Sarah Sarkis, a transplant from the suburbs of Boston who reluctantly moved into the downtown Honolulu condo tower Capitol Place four years ago after seeing how expensive single-family houses are on Oahu, said in written testimony that she grew to like high-rise living and wants to live in the planned Vida tower.

“Kakaako is an ideal location to expand and connect the already established neighborhoods of Ala Moana and Ward area,”she said.

The HCDA received written testimony from 11 individuals opposed to Vida, and one person expressed concerns in person.

A few opponents criticized HCDAfor advancing the date for voting on the project’s permit application to Nov. 25 from Dec. 17, arguing that the shorter timetable curtails the opportunity for community input.

“Ioppose rushing this project,” wrote Connie Smyth, a resident in another Kakaako tower, Imperial Plaza.

MKVida asked the HCDA to move up the hearing date over uncertainty whether Gov.-elect David Ige, who takes office Dec. 1, would be able to appoint four new HCDA board members in time to attend the previously scheduled Dec. 17 meeting.

Under HCDA rules, four state department directors automatically sit on the HCDA’s board or designate a representative for the seat.

Christian Chambers, an attorney for MKVida, said in the request filed last month that it would be better if board members who vote on the project are the same ones who receive the testimony from developer representatives and the public.

Chambers also said the public has had ample opportunity to comment on the project because the permit application with details has been on the HCDA’s website for several weeks.

If no hearing were held Dec. 17 because of no board quorum, the HCDA would have been under pressure to vote on the Vida permit by Jan. 19 or have it approved automatically because of a deadline in agency rules.

Wayne Takamine, an Ige supporter who said he believes HCDA has not been transparent in some past decisions, disagrees with the adjusted hearing dates. “I believe the incoming administration should have the final say,”he said in written testimony.

Ige has not commented on HCDA’s decision to advance hearing dates for the Vida project and another tower permit at Ward Centers.

If the HCDA’s board votes to approve Vida, MKVida plans to execute an agreement to buy the project site from Kamehameha Schools and start construction by March.

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