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Big day for Forest City’s Kamakana Villages

The 272-acre Kamakana Village at Keahuolu. (Hawaii247 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

Thursday is a big day for Forest City’s Kamakana Villages project, as it comes before the County Council and the state Land Use Commission meetings.

The council meets 9 a.m. in Hilo (although videoconferencing is available in Kona and Waimea), while the LUC meets 9:30 a.m. at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in Kona.

Forest City Hawaii, in partnership with the state Housing Finance and Development Corporation, proposes Kamakana Villages at Keahuolu as an affordable, compact, walkable, transit-oriented community.

Forest City project manager Race Randle said the project is designed to be comfortable, safe and ecologically sustainable, while comforting with the Kona Community Development Plan and county’s land use policies.

The 272-ace project sits above Ane Keohokalole Highway and would include parks, commercial and office space, as well as sites for an elementary school and a charter school. Of the 2,330 homes, 1,169 will be priced at affordable levels.

The project still needs to approval of the LUC, which is being asked to amend the land use district from its current Ag District classification to an Urban District classification.

Meanwhile, the council is considering a slate of approximately 50 variances and exemptions, which is permissible under state law for affordable housing projects.

However, opponents have argued the project does not conform to the Kona Community Development Plan, has ownership issues dating back the land sale to the state by Queen Liliuokalani Trust, and, even though it followed the state formula, is not affordable to most West Hawaii residents.

Opponents also have concerns about traffic impacts, police and fire coverage, and waste water disposal. In addition, some say the green belt is not wide enough.

Also, the county is being asked to forgive some fees.

“We have a great track record. We only go into things it we can do a good job,” Randle said. “It’s a risky business. Affordable housing is a long-term risk, but we believe in this project. The need for housing in Kona is clear.”

Randle said none of the exemptions to the County Code would affect public health or safety and all have been approved by engineers.

“The exemptions would reduce the costs to build affordable housing. That’s our duty,” he said.

Supporters say West Hawaii needs homes they can afford to buy and rent, as well as the construction jobs the project will bring. Plus the 900 permanent jobs that will be created within the project.

Randle said Forest City officials have been impressed with the level of knowledge in West Hawaii. Hundreds of residents were involved in developing the community plan and have been helpful in guiding the design process.

“This community is one of the most educated in the world when it comes to development,” he said.

“We have the financing right now to start building,” Randle said. “With this project, we have the best opportunity to build affordable housing as a consistent pace. We still have to find buyers who have jobs, can afford a down payment and help them stay qualified.”

Kamakana Villages would take up to 20 years to build out, with about 70 affordable homes being made available each year.

Randle said he is excited about the prospect of Kamakana Villages earning a LEED certificate for a neighborhood with a sustainable plan.

“That’s incredibly hard to get. There are no shortcuts; you can’t fake it,” he said. “But we are committed to it and we know how to do it. Personally, I’m really excited to be working on this project.”

Currently, the timeline would allow the first residents to move in toward the end of 2012.

“It’s literally the best thing ever as a developer, to be able to hand someone the keys to their own home,” Randle said. “That would be a great Christmas present for Kona if we could have a bunch of people moving in.”

Here’s some more details about the project, provided by Forest City:

Average home price

The average affordable home price at Kamakana Villages at Keahuolu is targeted at $256,000 while the Average Market Home price is targeted at $459,000, both in today’s dollars.

Of the 1,169 affordable homes being built, Forest City is targeting approximately 825 (or 70%) in the 80-100% AMI (average median income) range, 286 (or 24%) in the 100-120% AMI range, and 58 units (or 5%) in the 120-140% AMI range.

For example, at 80% AMI this equates to a family of 4 with a household income of $55,300 being able to purchase an affordable home at a sales price of $253,000.

These figures are based on the Affordable Housing Guidelines for Hawaii County which consider 1) a 30-year conventional fixed mortgage, 2) a fixed rate interest rate of 5.0% and 3) a housing expense of 28% of gross annual income and lastly, 4) a down payment equal to 5% of the sales price.

Smart Green Exemptions

None of the County Code exemptions requested will adversely affect health or safety.

In fact, most of the 56 requested exemptions are simply needed to build a model project and meet Kona Community Development Plan (CDP) guidelines, LEED Neighborhood Development, and SmartCode principles.

Some of the exemptions will reduce the costs of the affordable homes to make them more affordable for working families, and some will expedite building permit reviews and project approvals.

Implementing smart, green thinking at Kamakana Villages means having to ask for exemptions to meet newer, more stringent goals and guidelines. One day in the not too distant future, these exemptions will most likely be considered “best practice” and will be adopted within the County Code, thereby eliminating any need for exemptions. Often times being the first means going through the pains of establishing the norm.

Lighting The Way

The Kona community was actively engaged in developing the Kona CDP, and Forest City Hawaii is among the first to implement the Kona CDP.

Unfortunately the proactive Kona CDP – which advocates using the SmartCode and various other green-based development concepts – doesn’t yet sync up with existing codes. One example of this: the installation and dedication of County-approved solar street lights presently requires an exemption to the current building code.

Kamakana Villages Row House Concept

A healthy community needs housing that is within reach of working families. Kona’s working families – whether they be teachers, fire department personnel, construction, retail or hotel workers – need homes they can afford to own that are close to schools, jobs, shopping and recreation. Building quality affordable homes, in the heart of Kona, will improve the quality of life for the entire Kona community.

Forest City Hawaii’s Kamakana Villages at Keahuolu does just that.

Over the course of this 20-year project, Forest City Hawaii is working to build 1,169 affordable homes just mauka of the new mid-level road under construction, the new Ane Keohokalole Highway.

In the very near future, we will have hundreds of new affordable homes built near the center of town. Kamakana Villages at Keahuolu will provide affordable and market workforce housing mixed throughout this sustainable-designed community.

Key Neighborhood Features

The proposed community will be a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood that includes a town center with shopping and dining, two new schools, over 28 acres of parks including two large parks with ball fields and play structures, open spaces and 9-acres of preserved Native Hawaiian archaeological sites.

Green and Sustainable

Kamakana Villages will be a cutting-edge, sustainable, energy-efficient community with homes and commercial structures designed to LEED criteria and incorporating renewable energy, solar hot water and water conservation strategies in its design.

What is Multi-modal?

This new community is being designed to encourage multiple modes of transportation, making it easy to travel within the community and to neighborhoods and residences, commercial establishments, shopping and parks. Kamakana Villages will feature pleasant sidewalks for walking, green planting strips, bike lanes and paths.

Built in Phases

The first phase is planned to begin delivery of completed homes in 2012. The total build out of Kamakana Villages is phased over a 16-year timeline, with more than 50% of all homes built in Kamakana Villages priced at County affordable levels.

Project Team

Forest City Enterprises, Inc. is a company with a more than
80-year legacy as a leading community-builder and creator of economic growth. Forest City joins the community for the long-term, with a commitment to making a difference. As a result, neighborhoods, cities and regions change for the better.

Race Randle of Forest City Hawaii and Waimea’s Tom Yamamoto lead the project team. Other planning team members include Group 70 International, Inc. from Honolulu; Calthorpe Associates from Berkeley, California; Riehm Owensby Planners Architects from Kona and David Tamura Landscape Architect from Hilo. The Housing Finance and Development Corporation is the state agency charged with facilitating affordable housing development.

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