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Oahu tries to solve hotel crunch with more rooms in more places

Jan 26, 2013 5:49 am

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Before Oahu or any other Hawaiian island begins piecemeal attempts at revamping housing they need a comprehensive development plan to deal with the realities of the islands’ housing and transportation challenges.

— Jason Clampet

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markyeg  / Flickr

Waikiki hotels along the beach. markyeg / Flickr


“Limited-service” hotels would be allowed in low-density, mixed-used areas of Honolulu, West Oahu and Central Oahu under a bill that got a preliminary approval Thursday from the City Council Zoning and Permitting Committee.

But Bill 75 (2012) has a long way to go, with concerns raised about how such hotels would be approved and the potential impact on communities.

The law now allows hotels only in areas designated for resort and high-density mixed-use business development. The city Department of Planning and Permitting proposed allowing lower-intensity, or “limited-serv-ice,” hotels as a result of “pent-up demand” for such accommodations in urban Honolulu, West Oahu and Central Oahu.

“Lower density hotels will cater more to the non-destination, non-tourist and family or business-oriented travelers who may require extended stays in areas located near business districts or attractions like colleges or universities, and regional parks such as the Waipio soccer complex,” according to a DPP staff report accompanying the bill.

The report says “limited service hotels tend to offer more limited (or basic) amenities such as daily room service, a continental breakfast and possibly a fitness center or swimming pool.”

The bill says that any proposal for a hotel with more than 180 lodging and/or dwelling units would need to obtain a separate conditional-use permit before proceeding. It also calls for accessory services such as eating or drinking establishments, meeting facilities and retail shops to be treated as separate permitted uses subject to additional approvals.

Gene Awakuni, chancellor of the University of Hawaii at West Oahu, said much of the area within and just outside the brand-new campus in East Kapolei is zoned forlow-density mixed-use business. With the student population expected to grow to 4,000 in several years, the area is ripe for limited-service hotel rooms.

Faculty member recruits and visiting scholars coming from the mainland are currently being shuttled from Waikiki, he said. Educators and others also attend conferences at the university. Most cannot afford the luxury accommodations at Ko Olina, Awakuni said.

“We think this will add immeasurably to the completing of the whole dream of the Second City (Kapolei),” he said.

But Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer of Unite Here! Local 5, a union that represents hotel and restaurant workers, urged Council members to use “extreme caution” when it comes to making it easier for developers to build limited-service hotels.

Gill said such developments tend to have a negative impact on the number of hotel jobs and the state’s overall tax base. Placing such hotels in West and Central Oahu would also remove guests from the state’s economic base of Waikiki, he said.

“You’re talking about losing more jobs in our Waikiki base,” he said. “Limited service, let’s be honest what that means: That means no jobs.”

Council members Ron Menor and Kymberly Pine said they want a better explanation about how the department determined that a conditional-use permit would only be required of those limited-service hotels with 180 or more rooms. Smaller hotels may have an impact on a community, and affected residents would likely want to have a say, they said.

Council Zoning and Planning Chairman Ikaika Anderson persuaded colleagues to change the bill to require that conditional-use permits for limited-service hotels of 180-plus rooms be approved by the Council, not the department. The bill now goes to the full Council for the second of three votes.

(c)2013 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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