On March 19th the Department of Permitting and Planning (DPP) will be making a crucial decision whether to allow the new 350 foot tower planned at 2121 Kuhio Ave in Waikiki to be built with a wall-like Diamond Head / Ewa orientation, or to require a Mauka / Makai design. The planned tower is already being called the “Tombstone” due to the effect it will have in this prominent location. It will block remaining ocean views for an entire block behind it on Launiu Street, and it will increase the shaded corridor effect on Kuhio. The tower will have 361 condotel units marketed to foreign investors with approximately 1 parking space for every 4 units. It will be branded Ritz-Carlton Residences Waikiki.
While people are happy to see the site developed, it is the orientation they want changed. How many large towers are built today that only have ocean facing units? Most towers utilize their allowed density with units on multiple sides, enabling narrower structures.
Over the last nine months, many people in Waikiki, along with the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, Hawaii Thousand Friends, and Waikiki Residents Association have presented letters and testimony to the DPP, City Council and the Mayor against the orientation. The last public hearing was on February 12th.
The main reason against a Diamond Head / Ewa orientation is that it ignores the Waikiki Special District Guidelines which states that “The long axis of ALL new high-rise structures should be designed in a Mauka / Makai orientation…”. And, if the developers of this project are not required to change the orientation it will set a precedent for more walls in the future.
In 2006, the previous owner of the site planned to build a Mauka / Makai oriented tower which was approved by the City and the Neighborhood Board. The project never materialized due to the recession.
Another developer is seeking zoning changes for a 350 foot variance plus a large increase in density at the YMCA lot near Ala Moana Center on Atkinson Drive. The Ala Moana Neighborhood Board has already voted unanimously against this zoning change. So developers and the community are watching how the DPP will handle the 2121 Kuhio project orientation issue and view it as a sign of whether or not the city and the DPP will ignore the community and the guidelines as more and more large projects start to surface.
Let’s hope the DPP will do the right thing and require a narrower structure with units on multiple sides. We do not need another Sheraton wall in Waikiki.
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You can read about the YMCA project here.