Lihue-People who drive out of Lihue Airport in 2016 will pass through the gateway to Kauai: green grass, trees, and flowering bushes lining Ahukini road and Kapule Highway in deep, bermed setbacks from the road.
They will have been planted to partially screen and soften the many new industrial, retail, and government buildings and up to 1,800 houses and apartments-a huge new addition to Lihue.
Power lines will have vanished underground. A new police department building, a new courthouse, maybe a YMCA have gone up next to the Veteran's Building. The new industrial park along the makai side of Kapule Highway heading towards Hanamaulu looks clean and landscaped, unlike its gritty, ugly, predecessors down rice street.
On the mauka corners of the Ahukini-Kapule intersection an old concept has been given new life. In planners' lingo, it's "Village Mixed-Use." It's what villages and towns traditionally were until suburbia and quarter-acre lots with single-family houses became Middle America's goal.
Here, retail businesses, offices, apartments, and houses cluster together within easy walking distance and bicycling distance of each other. Some buildings have stores on the first floor, apartments and offices on the second.
A large swath of land in the back of the village areas and running up to the cliffs overlooking Hanamaulu valley is covered with typical suburban houses, but the lots are smaller than those of 20 years earlier, smaller even than the 4,300 to 5,500 square feet zoning ( eight to ten houses per acre) would allow.
That's because the houses are also clustered close together, and between the clusters are expanses of open space, large parks, bikeways, and bike paths.
The residential and village clusters line Ahukini road all the way up to Molokoa Village and Wal-Mart.
The Vision:This is the new part of Lihue. It fills what was once caneland that separated the county seat from Hanamaulu. It's home to dozens of businesses large and small and to about 5,400 people, many of whom can be seen walking and biking along the streets.
And Hanamaulu Bay is cleaner than it's been in decades, no longer a murky silty, sediment cesspool. A drainage system included parks with detention basins that catch storm runoff and control its flow into the ocean, thanks to technology that was unavailable when cane was king and Hanamaulu was built.
That's what the vision foretold in Amfac/JMB's 550 acre-, 15 to 20 year master plan, one similar to the company's Waikele community on Oahu. The Plan got the County Council's go-ahead last month.
You could be seeing the first construction project as early as this winter when the company begins building a main road to the new industrial park and down to Ahukini pier, and gets started on the public area next to the Veteran's Building.
At the same time, Amfac will be developing a new water source and starting on sewer and drainage work. These will be the beginning of an estimated $55-65 million in infrastructure costs in the next 20 years.
Next will probably be the industrial park itself and the triangle of residential land at Kapule and Kuhio highways in Hanamaulu. the first village and residential areas along Ahukini will come online perhaps within the next four to five years, depending on the market.
Sprawl of Fill-In? The project certainly extends Lihue town beyond its current unofficial boundaries, and it puts the police and the courts a mile away from what is now the town core, an area bounded by Kuhio Highway and Rice, Hardy and Ulua streets.
But company real estate vice president and general manager Timothy Johns doesn't see it as urban sprawl. "We've always looked at this development as consolidating Lihue town, not pulling it in two different directions but trying to use it to link pedestrian and vehicular traffic to make it a unified whole.," he said.
"Lihue has traditionally been the commercial hub of the island, and if you're going to have increased growth like the predictions are over 20 years, you should focus on the areas that can be infilled."
The Office of Planning and the county Planning Department agreed with Amfac's idea and supported the master plan, Johns said. It's not sprawl; it's just that the "urban core" is going to get a lot bigger.
Some streets that are dead-ends will now connect the rest of Lihue to its new section. And a major new road will run up from near Wal-Mart down to Kapule and through the new industrial park. Bike routes and paths will be woven throughout the road grid.
One-third of the residences will be multi-family. That's optimistic , given Kauaians' preference for single family houses.
"It presents an interesting challenge, "Johns said. "the market hasn't responded to multi-family yet even though the entry price can be lower. the Planning Department was pushing us to have higher densities than we though the market might support. But(in the future) there may be people who get tired of driving from Kapaa to Lihue to go to work and want to try something new."
The village Mixed-use sections are the result of what Johns calls "neo-traditional planning." It's a pedestrian-friendly approach. Most residential and commercial sections within the master-planned area are designed to be within a few minutes' walk of each other. It's reminiscent of the kind of thing JoAnn Yukimura advocated during her years on the County Council.
Whether the Village concept makes it in the end will be determined by the market-that is, what people want in the future, said Mike Furukawa, Amfac/JMB's vice president of asset management.
"the driving part of the whole project is pricing-what the market will bear versus what people can afford," Furukawa said. "The smaller the lot, the lower the price."
the master plan says the buyers will be people who want to upgrade their current Lihue-area houses. But most house lots in that area are at least 6,000 square feet, many a quarter-acre. How is it upgrading to move to a comparatively tiny lot? "there are places where several families are living under one roof," Furukawa said, "there are people living in 'ohana units, condos, town houses, and of course there are renters." All of them, he said, are seen as the target market.
Industrial-Strength View: The biggest challenge to the gateway could be the industrial parks.
Amfac developed the existing two Lihue industrial parks on Kapule Highway. Both areas are jam-packed with prefab warehouses of purely utilitarian design. Although some owners have made landscaping efforts, in general the areas are treeless, weed-infested and dusty.
Parking is at a premium, and though the high level business activity shows it's not exactly urban blight, it sure looks like it.
And right at the Gateway to Kauai will be Amfac's new industrial park, more than twice as big as the current ones combined. Johns said that the company will maintain control over what it looks like, with covenants governing unified landscaping, off-street parking, big setbacks.
But it will take an awful lot of huge plantings to hide the industrial park from visitors' curious eyes.
One of the solutions will be deep setbacks that contain berms covered with plants and trees. They will resemble the landscaping the airport installed along Ahukini and Kapule, Johns said.
Berms and trees may hide many of the industrial buildings, but they can also block the view of the ocean from Kapule Highway. And Kapule is also a good vantage point to see Waialeale and Haupu.
You don't miss your water...:Our Kauaians and their visitors going to be driving through a corridor of berms and building walls and roof tops, the mountain and ocean views forever lost? It's happened already with Grove Farms development near Puhi, and walled-in Waipouli.
After all Kauai's main attraction for visitors is its wide open spaces, its green mountains and it oceans. The lost of views and driving down alley-like corridors brings to mind the adage, "You don't miss your water till the well runs dry."
"Those are good questions, and they were raised by the Planning Department," Johns said. "We need to be sensitive about placement of some of the streets and setbacks. We don't want this to look like Nimitz Highway in Honolulu. But you've gotta be honest. You're gonna see buildings. Some of the views are going to be affected.
"We're going to identify and preserve the priority views as much as possible. We're going to try to learn from the mistakes of previous developments and see what other people have done. Just from our self-interest, we don't want to make it ugly up front. Purely from a business standpoint we don't want to create bad feelings about the island when visitors first get here. We own 30,000 acres; we can't do something and walk away."
The Planning Department has been "quite diligent" and working with Amfac on the long term view question, Johns said, "to make sure that people don't look back and say, 'What did (Planning Director) Dee Crowell do 20 years ago?' "
That indeed is the kind of question people are now asking about previous planning director as the drive through Waipouli. "But in the longer term if you want to try to maintain views and a rural lifestyle for the rest of the island, you need to consolidate and focus on growth on the already urban core," Johns said.
Johns acknowledged that it's a juggling act to develop in the so called "urban core" while trying to hold on to that Kauaians and visitors love most about the Garden Isle. "But we are in it for the long haul and we've got to do it right or else we're just going to shoot ourselves in the foot."