Editor’s Note: The “Dean” of Land Use

November, 2005

It is a given in an island state such as Hawaii that land is power. So it logically follows that land use policy could be the key to unlocking some of Hawaii’s perennial problems, such as education, affordable housing and transportation.

One of the proponents of this argument is Dean Uchida, executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation, comprised of the major landowners and developers in Hawaii. Uchida says, “The man-land interaction provides insight into our past as well as our future. Since statehood we were one of the first states to enact comprehensive land use zoning. Right after statehood there was much discussion about keeping the neighbor islands rural and concentrating development on Oahu. Up through the 1970s it would appear that investment in infrastructure tended to reflect this plan.” Today, Uchida says, infrastructure development has not kept pace and the common thread that links improved public education, quality jobs and affordable housing is land-use planning.

In the area of educational improvement, for example, Uchida says that the Hawaii Department of Education should consider selling existing schools with low enrollments to assist in the development of new schools in growth areas, or redevelop existing schools. Uchida says, “For example, the DOE could offer the site to a developer and let the developer determine how best to redevelop the property that would result in: a new magnet school for the DOE; office space, retail/commercial space that would create a revenue stream for the DOE; and possibly residential units to create income potential for the DOE or teacher housing at low or no cost to provide better compensation for teachers.”

How’s that for thinking out of the box? I’m sure there are at least a dozen rules that say you can’t do any of the above, but rules can always be broken or changed.

How about affordable housing? Uchida says, “With less and less federal state or county funds available for infrastructure, the only fair way for government to push for more affordable housing would be through the use of entitlements (not to be confused with exactions) to create value for developers to build more housing at certain price ranges. This could be done through providing more certainty or reducing the processing time of permits to a developer if they build affordable units.”

Here’s Uchida’s take on how land use and transportation policy interact: “Government can create value in the lands in and around transit stops by allowing for mixed uses, increased density, etc. The philosophy is to create value and opportunities for new development and/or business, and capture some of the increased value over time to pay for the transit system.”


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Kelli Abe-Trifonovich