(Star-Advertiser) State agency to study transferring control of Kakaako to city

(Source: Star-Advertiser)

Gov. David Ige last week vetoed a controversial bill that would have altered future development and governance in Kakaako.

But state lawmakers still got some of what they wanted in the bill, which sought the production and execution of a plan under which the state agency that regulates development and infrastructure investments in Kakaako would transfer its responsibilities to the city.

One day after Ige issued his veto Tuesday, board members of the Hawaii Community Development Authority overseeing Kakaako voted to spend up to $100,000 for a private consultant to produce a study on transferring the agency’s Kakaako responsibilities to another entity or entities, despite concerns that such a transfer would be premature and unwise.

The requirement to produce a transfer plan was floated in early April toward the end of the last legislative session when the House Finance Committee, led by Rep. Sylvia Luke, deleted the contents of a bill aimed at facilitating redevelopment of Aloha Stadium and replaced it with the HCDA Kakaako transfer plan.

Senate Bill 1350, HD 2, threatened to withhold pay for about half of the authority’s staff in the next two years if a “comprehensive” transition plan that shifted HCDA’s role in Kakaako to the city wasn’t produced before the Legislature convenes again in January. The bill also mandated that the transfer to the city be completed before the end of 2023.

Lawmakers, who used a different bill to achieve the stadium redevelopment initiative, passed SB 1350 on April 30 in a vote that drew only one dissenter.

Ige vetoed the bill in part because he said the short timeline to complete the work could threaten funding for 13 HCDA positions.

However, lawmakers also included a provision in the state budget signed by Ige that calls for production of the transition plan 20 days before the Legislature convenes in January.

Michelle Matson, a founding member of a community advisory group that helped HCDA produce a master plan for Kakaako makai of Ala Moana Boulevard, characterized the effort by lawmakers as blackmail and urged the HCDA board at a meeting Wednesday not to go forward with the desired plan.

Some HCDA board members said it would be useful to lay out what the agency has yet to complete in its mission for Kakaako.

Board Chairman John Whalen said there is some public perception that HCDA’s work is done because so many high-rise buildings are rising in Kakaako. But the agency has other responsibilities besides increasing residential use in Kakaako, including zoning controls and improving substandard road and sewer infrastructure. The agency also owns property, including land under affordable-housing projects and Kewalo Harbor.

Substandard infrastructure in Kakaako and the city’s avoidance of improving the blighted area were reasons the Legislature created HCDA in 1976.

In more recent years the Legislature expanded HCDA’s planning and regulatory duties to cover Kalaeloa and Heeia, which stretched agency resources. Earlier this year the area around Aloha Stadium was added to HCDA’s jurisdiction.

HCDA is transferring ownership and management of its biggest Kakaako parks to the city, but concern was expressed at Wednesday’s meeting over how the city might change zoning rules or whether the city would even accept a transfer.

Whalen said any transfer would be complicated. “There’s just a lot of questions to address,” he said.

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