Kyo-Ya: Hearing set for Surfrider’s new tower

By Janis L. Magin
Pacific Business News
Proponents say Kyo-ya’s projects must proceed to ensure Waikiki’s success

Proponents say Kyo-ya’s projects must proceed to ensure Waikiki’s success

A plan to replace a 60-year-old low-rise beachfront hotel property with a modern high-rise tower as part of Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts’ $700 million project goes before the zoning board of appeals this month.

Four environmental groups are appealing a partial variance granted to Kyo-ya Co. for its new planned Diamond Head Tower adjacent to the historic Westin Moana Surfrider hotel. The new tower would partially encroach on a 100-foot building setback from the shoreline.

Kyo-ya’s architect on the project, Robert Iopa of WCIT Architecture, has modified the tower to satisfy the partial variance granted, so that it steps back in height from the ocean to the street side, taking away from the overall height of the project.

The tower would replace the existing 140-room beachfront tower DiamondHead of the Moana. The existing tower is a wide, eight-story building built in 1952 that stretches from the historic hotel to the lot line next to the  Honolulu Police Department’s Waikiki substation.

It’s part of Kyo-ya’s redevelopment of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani complex across the street. Construction on that project, which would add a 350-foot time-share tower, is set to begin in late 2012 or early 2013 and take nearly three years to complete, according to Kyo-ya President Greg Dickhens.

The two projects are projected to create nearly 3,400 construction jobs during the three-year period, said John White, executive director of the  Pacific Resource Partnership, which has joined labor unions in supporting Kyo-ya in defending the variance.

Kyo-ya had received some opposition to the Princess Kaiulani project from Unite Here Local 5 because of the time-share component but has since worked out an agreement with the hotel workers union.

But the beachside hotel and residential tower, which would be the first new hotel on Waikiki Beach in 30 years, has drawn complaints from environmental and community activists, who claim the tower will be built too close to the beach and that its height will block existing views.

Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, the Ka Iwi Coalition, the Surfrider Foundation, Kahea — The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance and Diamond Head resident Michelle Matson in January filed an appeal of a partial zoning variance for the project granted by David Tanoue, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting. Their appeal is scheduled to be heard by the appeals board on April 21.iews.

The plans, as created by WCIT Architecture, call for a narrow 282-foot tower, which would be 26 stories. It would be separated from the existing historic hotel by 60 feet and would add a 15-foot public easement between the tower and the police station.

The ground-floor lobby and motor court either would be open or glass-enclosed, which would open up new pedestrian views of the ocean from Kalakaua Avenue.

“Our commitment to reinvest will not only upgrade the accommodations in this aging property to the high standard modern travelers demand, but will also open up significant street-level ocean views and public beach access across private land right in the commercial heart of Waikiki,” Dickhens told PBN, in a written statement.

Kyo-ya applied for a variance arguing that the company met a required three-prong standard: First, it would be deprived of the use of the land if the 100-foot setback were enforced, noting that it would allow use of just 7 percent of the land. The company also said the land was unique because it is the narrowest parcel on Waikiki Beach, and because it also has a historic structure already on it. And, lastly, Kyo-ya argued the new tower would not alter the character of Waikiki.

The petitioners argue that the project would erode the shoreline and obstruct views of the ocean. They also argue that Kyo-ya could renovate the existing eight-story building instead of tearing it down.

The petitioners feel the variance was improperly granted because Kyo-ya didn’t meet the three-part test, “The reality is that Kyo-ya is already enjoying a nonconforming structure that is taller than what is allowed by the special regulations [for Waikiki Beach], grandfathered in,” said Marti Townsend, spokeswoman for Kahea.

Tanoue noted that the City Council had already placed requirements on the project when it gave approvals for the entitlements, such as preserving the 110-year-old Moana wing and creating the 15-foot public easement.

There are also setback requirements for the side of the property along Kalakaua Avenue, he said.

Dickhens also says that claims the new tower would create excess shadowing on Waikiki Beach are unwarranted, and has noted that the new tower will be smaller than the Hyatt Regency Waikiki’s ewa tower across the street.

“The Diamond Head Tower will have only incremental shadowing limited to the early morning hours of the summer months. The potential shadowing would be almost entirely covered by the Hyatt Regency Hotel, which is situated mauka of the
Diamond Head Tower,” he said.

Rick Egged of the  Waikiki Improvement Association, which also has filed documents supporting the project, said his group believes “it’s important for Waikiki to have a current product mix to be competitive nationally and internationally.’

“We need to able to have projects like this successfully completed,” he said. “We are comfortable the issues that have been raised, while certainly important, are outweighed by the advantages of being able to upgrade the product mix for Waikiki.”

The Land Use Research Foundation is supporting Kyo-ya’s variance because it feels it’s important that landowners or developers are treated fairly when they apply for permits, said Executive Director David Arakawa.

He noted that some of the critics have claimed Kyo-ya is building a “castle in the sand.”

“We would like to see, when these decisions get made by the decision makers, that they make it based on facts and not emotional allegations or hyperbole,” he said. “We want to preserve that process, to preserve a process where government approvals are based on fact or the law.”

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