Writing in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, BYU-Hawaii President Steven C. Wheelwright explains how the university’s growth is not only consistent with the city’s General Plan, but critical to the sustainability of the Ko‘olau Loa region:
Increasing our student population will allow us to spread the costs of a BYU-Hawaii education over a larger pool, replace and renovate aging campus buildings and continue to support the surrounding residents.
The city’s General Plan for Oahu calls for economic development and support for educational institutions. There are two major challenges limiting BYU-Hawaii’s growth. There are already 550 housing units in the plan for Laie. They haven’t been built because, among other reasons, they would hem in the BYU-Hawaii campus, restricting our growth. This is inconsistent with the plan’s call to support educational institutions and economic sustainability.
Affordable housing is desperately needed in Koolau Loa where overcrowding is quite severe. In recent community planning meetings, it has been clear that more housing is needed. This would primarily assist in taking care of the pent up demand of current residents (versus drawing new residents to the area.) We need at least 650 more homes than the 550 that already exist in the plan, and we’re asking that they be built in Malaekahana rather than on land BYU-Hawaii needs to grow.
These additional 650 homes are consistent with the General Plan for Oahu because the plan deals with population, not housing units. With the lack of housing in the area, there are more people per household in Laie than anywhere else on Oahu. More and more homes in the area are becoming vacation rentals and second homes instead of primary residences. The new homes are needed just to alleviate the current overcrowding, to replace homes that are being converted to something other than primary residences, and to serve the population growth that is already projected for Koolau Loa. As a result, the new homes should not increase the area’s population beyond what the General Plan and the city forecast for Koolau Loa.
If current trends continue, 30 percent of the homes in Koolau Loa will be second homes in 15 years with more and more longtime residents leaving the region because they are unable to make a living and find affordable housing. While the rest of Honolulu is growing, Laie has been in a population decline — losing over 16 percent of its population and splitting families apart.
Laie is a university town. Support for BYU-Hawaii’s growth and affordable housing in Malaekahana is critical for the health and sustainability of this special place. The city’s Koolau Loa’s Sustainable Communities plan should heed the General Plan and meet the needs of the community by planning for a future that incorporates these changes.