Plans for a new 43-story skyscraper on Kapiolani Blvd move forward

Some residents in the neighborhood of the affordable housing project are against it, saying the project is moving too fast.

Encouraged by realtors and housing advocates, the Honolulu City Council unanimously approved Wednesday a series of permit fee waivers for a 43-story high-rise development on Kapiolani Boulevard backed by a well-connected local development company, the Kobayashi Group.

The mixed-use complex would be located at 2599 Kapiolani Blvd., near Date Street, on a 3-acre parcel, displacing what is currently a neighborhood of two-story garden-style apartment buildings.

The project would also include a second 12-story building and a 13-story parking structure. The new project will be called Kuilei Place.

In early 2022, the City Council reviewed the plans for the project. It was approved by the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. board of directors in October, according to the city’s resolution passed Wednesday.

Kuilei Place is among the first in a series of new housing projects being accelerated through the approval process to boost home construction on Oahu. Local and state officials and housing advocates have long urged that the process be streamlined to allow more projects to move forward on the fast track.

Honolulu City Hall with in-person session and a handful of in-person public testimonials.
The Honolulu City Council approved a measure allowing a 43-story skyscraper on Kapiolani Boulevard. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Area residents, some of whom said they had just heard about the Kuilei Place project and are vehemently opposed, said they were surprised by the proposal’s rapid movement through the city’s hearing process.

“I think this is accelerating without the public knowing what’s going on,” said Julia Allen, a Diamond Head/Kapahulu Avenue/St. Louis Heights Neighborhood Board. “What we need is affordable housing and what is being built is not affordable housing. They are tearing down affordable housing to build it.”

The McCully/Moiliili Neighborhood Board opposed the project this month in a unanimous resolution.

“They’re going to have to demolish quite a few two-story walk-ups that are the norm in Moiliili to build this skyscraper,” said Matt Prellberg, a neighborhood board member.

Prellberg was particularly critical of Councilman Calvin Say, who represents the district that includes the project, as well as the neighborhood council.

Say voted in favor of the fee waivers, along with the rest of the council.

“It’s difficult to me; it’s part of the neighborhood that I represent,” Say said at the hearing, noting that officials are trying to encourage projects that add affordable housing.

He said he knew that the residents who opposed the project were not blindly opposed to the development, but had serious concerns about the size of the project.

Council President Tommy Waters said some of his constituents were also unhappy with the project, but there were reasons for speed on the council.

“State law requires that we act on this project within 45 days,” he said.

The developer has told city officials that of the 1,005 units, 40% will be sold at market value. About 60% will be sold at prices affordable to households earning between $104,500 and $158,600 for a family of four, which represents the range between 80% and 140% of median income in Hawaii.

As a result of negotiations with the city, the developer will offer more units at lower income levels.

The City Council vote waived about $12 million in customary fees for large projects of this type.

The developer will not have to pay building permit fees, for a savings of $1.9 million, or plan review fees, estimated at $389,660. Wastewater system installation charges and private storm sewer connection fees have been waived. The developer is not expected to pay for the fire safety review plan required by the Honolulu Fire Department, saving another $194,830.

The Water Supply Board will allow a deferral of the payment of the water installation, the cost of which was estimated at $3 million.

Many real estate executives, building union officials, real estate agents and housing advocates expressed strong support for the project, saying it would help solve the housing affordability crisis in Hawaii.

Many told council members that this project would keep young people from leaving Hawaii, or that if it wasn’t built, more people would move to the mainland.