Affordable Hilo housing project clears hurdle

  • KATO

  • An aerlal view of the location of the proposed housing project.

The Windward Planning Commission on Thursday granted a state land use boundary amendment to a proposed affordable housing project of up to 90 units for seniors and families in Hilo.

The commission approved the action by a 6-0 vote, with Commissioner Dean Au excused.

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The vote doesn’t amount to an actual zoning change for Hale Ola O Mohouli, which is planned for a 9.091-acre state-owned property near the mauka-Hamakua corner of Mohouli and Komohana streets.

It does, however, move Hawaii Island Community Development Corporation’s project with a favorable recommendation for approval to the County Council, which will decide on the required rezoning from agricultural to urban use for construction of the proposed $47 million project.

The only public testimony came from an individual opposed to the nonprofit developer’s low-to-moderate-income rental housing project, at least as it’s proposed.

Tim Keller, who lives in neighboring Sunrise Estates subdivision, said he’s fine with elderly housing in the area, but not housing for low-income individuals. He said their presence will result in a decrease in surrounding property values and a higher crime rate.

“Well, clearing that place and having housing right there, especially low-income, is nothing to look forward to,” Keller said. “… Our neighborhood’s already been hit by break-ins, mail theft and stolen property. We don’t want to see that go up.

“So, bottom line: No low-income housing except for the kupuna.”

Keller said the development would negatively affect neighboring residents’ quiet lifestyles.

“Currently, there’s two medical doctors, a pharmacist and two dentists that are impacted by this development. They’ve worked hard all their lives to get where they’re at. They work hard during the day, and they’d like to come home and have that privacy,” he said. “We ask if you approve this project, it be written into the approval that the permanent 30-foot buffer stays, with the green space that’s currently in place, along with a fence on (the project’s) side.”

Keller also took issue with what he called a “decade-old traffic study” in an environmental assessment released last month for the project that had a finding of no significant impact.

“I don’t know if any of you has tried to cross Kukuau (Street) during rush-hour traffic or make a left turn,” he said. “It’s almost impossible during that time. You’re playing Russian roulette with traffic.”

Keith Kato, executive director of HICDC, told commissioners his organization’s market study found “a much bigger need for family units than there are for senior units.”

“And part of that, I think, is because we’ve developed 182 senior units just down the street. So, that rather informed us to what we should be doing,” Kato said. “We’re basically one-third senior, two-thirds family. That’s basically the mix we’re proposing.”

Kato said the type of project his organization is proposing requires only a 15-foot setback, but he’s committed to a 30-foot setback from property lines — which he said is the setback required by law for Sunrise Estates.

“We’re trying to utilize this 30-foot setback area, you know, this landscaped buffer area as … walking paths, recreation areas — if we can, put a dog park area in there — basically so residents can have use of the area and have a variety of little recreational outlets,” he said.

Kato also pointed to the EA’s traffic study, which he said was done last year, saying he doesn’t “believe there’ll be a significant traffic impact on Kukuau Street.”

“It was an odd time because of the COVID situation. But they took some historic traffic counts,” he noted. “And I think the key thing is … what traffic is being generated by the project. So, the calculations of the traffic engineers is that in the morning peak … there’ll be 38 cars or vehicles leaving our site. … And of those, they expect seven of those to be turning mauka. The overwhelming traffic flow will come out of Kupuna Place, turning makai.

“In the afternoon … 24 vehicles will be coming out of the project, and their projection is only two will be turning mauka.”

According to Kato, HICDC has contributed $500,000 to the county for a traffic signal at the intersection of Kupuna Place and Mohouli Street, although to date, no signal has been installed there.

“We agree that something needs to be done at that intersection — and we would just like to point out that we have made a contribution to that end,” he said.

In response to a question by Commissioner Dennis Lin, Kato said the upper-income cutoff for the project would be $51,360 a year for a family of four, 60% of Hawaii Island’s median family income of $78,800.

“I think that $51,000 catches a big segment of our population in terms of what the household incomes are,” Kato added.

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“We believe that this will be a project that is much needed for the community. It’ll be an attractive project … that meets the broader needs of the community.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.