Valuable properties are left unused to make way for rail.
According to a report from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, it wants to keep buying land, even though construction is still years away.
Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi is questioning why HART, the agency that manages the rail project, keeps buying properties in town. It has forced business owners to move out or shut down completely.
We pressed HART to find out why it wants to do this when it doesn’t need the land right now.
Kobayashi says the city is losing out on property taxes when those businesses close down, but HART says the move saves taxpayers money in the long run.
Prime properties in Kakaako sit empty surrounded by wire link fences and “no trespassing” signs.
Jolly King, owner of Ala Moana Surfboards, says her business was told to move here three years ago though rail construction is still years away.
“Does that make sense to you?” KHON2 asked.
“No, not at all, because there’s a whole block over there and all the buildings are gone,” King said.
She says she’s lucky she found a good location nearby but she says the move still hurt her bottom line.
“It means you take a loss because the compensation for the move did not cover the moving expenses and relocation. It just couldn’t,” King explained.
“Why make people move today if they can move next year or the following year? We need our economy to be robust and to protect our small businesses,” Kobayashi argued.
A spokesman for HART says buying these properties now will save taxpayers money because it’s more than likely that in the years ahead the value of these properties will go up.
HART has sent a letter to council members which estimates that of the property acquisitions made so far, it has saved $8.6 million.
But the city has also lost $2.6 million in property tax revenues.
“So it’s not a dollar-for-dollar gain with the money that we save, because there is some property tax loss, but that doesn’t come near the amount of money that we save,” said HART spokesman Bill Brennan.
There’s also the added cost of maintenance for the unused properties, including fencing, security, landscaping, and graffiti cleanup, which adds up to $56,000 a year.
Kobayashi says it will still make more sense to let business owners stay on until construction is near.
Brennan says HART works with business owners to give them that choice, but there are cases when that’s not possible.
“If we need to do some investigative work underground for utilities and that kind of thing, then we need the property, so it all depends on when we need the property and that varies on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
HART will be asking for permission to acquire more properties at a board meeting Thursday.