Planned Waikiki parking structure could face legal hurdle

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Honolulu City Councilmembers are moving forward with a plan to ease the parking crunch in Waikiki, but they could be facing some legal challenges.

The budget committee has approved $500,000 for the planning and design of a parking structure next to Honolulu Zoo.

“Overall, town is pretty built up,” said Ewa resident Natasha Byrd.

“It’s kind of overcrowded, overpopulated,” said Waimanalo resident Raul Wonneberger.

A new parking structure could include three levels and could sit where the existing zoo parking lot is located.

“I think it should be enjoyed for whoever is in that area as long as they pay the fee,” said Honolulu City Council budget chair Ann Kobayashi.

But the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society opposes it. The land falls under a trust and placing a new parking structure at the zoo or near Waikiki Shell, which is also being considered, would not be in line with the park’s trust.

“Are they breaking any rules or laws?” KHON2 asked.

“Not yet. They might be well-intentioned, but the park trust does not allow for that land to be used as a revenue generator,” said Alethea Rebman with the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society.

Rebman says the existing parking is allowed only under the conditions that it be reasonably priced and be clearly marked as being for park users only.

“It’s pretty clear that it’s not being built to serve the park users. If you look at the rhetoric around it, it’s being built to serve Waikiki and the surrounding businesses and to raise money,” Rebman said.

Trees in the zoo’s parking lot present another issue.

Kobayashi says one possibility is to design a structure around the trees. Once the structure is designed, the council will get feedback from the area neighborhood boards.

“Why don’t you get the feedback first, see if it’s legal to move forward and then approve the half-million dollars?” KHON2 asked.

“I believe we did this. We found out that we certainly could improve the parking,” Kobayashi said.

But if councilmembers add parking, “then the logical progression is court. We don’t want to threaten court, but that’s the answer to your question,” Rebman said.

The full council still needs to approve the budget.

If councilmembers move forward with plans and are hit with a legal challenge, Kobayashi says the $500,000 does not have to be spent and will not be released.

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