Authors Ken Schmidt, Jamie Peirson, and Mark Lierman
Waikiki Zoning: The Waikiki Special District (WSD) - Polishing Hawaii=s Jewel
Historically and culturally, Waikiki=s appeal has always emanated from its situation as a place of hospitality; a place where people gather, attracted by a wide array of residential, recreational and cultural activities. Waikiki today is a sophisticated urban resort and residential community, marked by diversity and contrast in building forms, heights and densities, land uses and treatment of open spaces. As a result of such diversity, it perhaps lacks a unifying "sense of place".
From a planning perspective, Waikiki has been studied and re-studied throughout its history. Much of the development in Waikiki was accomplished prior to the formation of the Waikiki Special Design District (zoning ordinance) in 1976. As a result, most of the existing in buildings in Waikiki were built before today's more restrictive standards.
In order to study existing development conditions in Waikiki and study the potential impact of revised standards and guidelines, the mapping technology and databases available through the City and County of Honolulu=s Land Information System (HoLIS) were extensively utilized. Performing density calculations and estimating the extent of building nonconformity were made possible through the comprehensive set of land information records compiled and accessible through HoLIS.
Through the graphic display options, HoLIS was used to generate a series of maps which were used to communicate new ideas to residents, visitor industry representatives, businesses, government officials, and property owners. Some maps were included as exhibits in the amendment document which was eventually passed by the City Council as Ordinance 96-72.
The adoption of the Ordinance has been hailed as a positive, major step forward for Waikiki; although, both proponents and opponents are awaiting the ultimate impact the revised ordinance will have on AHawaii=s Jewel.@ The planning process, long and arduous, involved the cooperation of many interests and the use of technology to facilitate changes intended to benefit all who have an interest in this world-renowned treasure.
Waikiki properties (836 lots, with 775 structures) are among the most valuable in the state, are not unified under common ownership, and existing buildings and uses therein have evolved over a period of some 70-80 years of development. The historical mixed use of space is prevalent. It was apparent to City planners and the business community that Waikiki's unique zoning regulations - collectively called the Waikiki Special District (WSD) - were acting as a profound constraint to the physical improvement of Waikiki. The challenge was to find ways to amend the WSD to reverse this situation; facilitate a Hawaiian sense of place, and not adversely impact the environment, the business climate or the lifestyle of residents in and around Waikiki.
Considerable development was accomplished prior to 1976, the year the WSD was created. Accompanying the economic ascendancy of Hawaii's tourism industry, the building boom of the 1960s and early 1970s introduced the high-rise tower into Waikiki's urban form. These buildings were often massive and bulky, their floorplates extending to the property lines; open spaces, pedestrian movement, visual linkages to the environment and an appropriate urban design were all overlooked in favor of maximizing the use of space for developable floor area.
Community concern over these changes in character - from a laid-back tropical resort to a dense, high-rise urban center - led to the creation of the WSD. Standards limiting the location of permitted uses and building form (height, density, setbacks and open space) were adopted. Existing buildings and the mix of uses became nonconforming as a result. Today, Waikiki is characterized by its high degree of nonconformities, e.g., fully one-half of all hotel establishments in Waikiki today are nonconforming uses; approximately 52 percent of the buildings in Waikiki today have too much floor area; more than 90 percent of the buildings in Waikiki today are assumed to be nonconforming structures for one reason or another. Redevelopment and retention of nonconformities are normally tightly constrained by zoning regulations in order to facilitate their eventual compliance with existing standards.
Waikiki was largely developed prior to the adoption of the WSD. Only 29 permits for new buildings or major renovations were issued under the WSD between 1976 and 1996 (when sweeping changes were adopted). Prior to recent amendments, when a property owner wanted to redevelop a property the work had to comply with existing standards. Since these standards were typically far more restrictive than the design of the existing building and often even the use of that building, property owners were averse to reinvesting in their property. When the costs of renovation or redevelopment are too high for a fair return on investment, it makes more sense to keep the old building operating as efficiently as possible. Yet, this can make the property less attractive and less desirable for its targeted clientele. From a planning perspective, the opportunity to implement WSD objectives are lost without reinvestment in and redevelopment of these properties.
Likewise, the developer of a new construction project was often frustrated by restrictions limiting the size and arrangement of buildings, the number of units allowed, and the amount of open space demanded. This also acted as a deterrent to fresh investment in Waikiki. City planners, government officials and business leaders recognizing the importance of Waikiki to our economy decided to study if changes in land use policy could effect a positive change.
In 1990 a one-year Interim Development Control (IDC) ordinance for Waikiki was passed by the City Council. This action prohibited new construction until new policies could be developed. A consultant was hired and a large task force was convened. Appropriate amendments to the Development Plan were determined and adopted in 1992. A general plan study was concluded in 1993. Large amounts of data were collected and studied during this time period. It was decided to form another task force to consider further actions, particularly concerning the WSD. Beginning in 1995, this task force was assembled to study policy changes which could enhance the attractiveness of Waikiki and encourage new investment in physical development.
City planners first investigated the issues and compiled possible solutions, usually in close consultation with the business community. The task force then considered the recommendations proposed by City planners, among much controversy, to amend the special district zoning standards and create new urban design guidelines for Waikiki. These recommendations were comprised of the following:
CInstitute design guidelines (for the first time), promoting a "Hawaiian sense of place";
CSimplify the application of permitted use and development standards, notoriously complicated under the previous WSD;
CProvide for greater accommodation of nonconformities to encourage redesigned buildings and reduce the need for variances; and
CAllow more design flexibility for new development in exchange for significant implementation of design guidelines.
In the initial stages, staff planners and GIS personnel conducted a series of calculations to determine the extent of nonconformities associated with building size and land usage. These investigations involved iterative processes combining available land use data (made difficult by the nature and often absence of recorded data), modeling of zoning regulation application (made difficult due to the complex nature of the WSD) and the result of field analysis. The timely resolution of these significant inquiries with their inherent problems was only possible through the power of the City's GIS (Honolulu=s Land Information System - HoLIS).
A GIS program was written using the Esri ArcInfo macro language to access the City's Land Use Information file (LUF) for Waikiki. The LUF is a building permit-based database whose contents have been compiled and maintained by the Planning Department over the years. Besides total floor area, the LUF also contains information about dwelling unit count, number of building floors, the year a building permit was issued, indicators concerning jointly developed parcels (i.e., project development crosses parcel boundaries), general building type, and generalized activity (use) codes.
The first time the program was operated, it derived building density calculations solely from the LUF. However, the regulatory procedure to calculate the floor area ratio (FAR) - the total floor area on a lot divided by the lot area - had changed for many building since construction. Since then the lot size might have changed due to street corner roundings or widening resulting in smaller lot size, but no change in floor area, in which case today=s FAR calculation would show an increase in FAR. This method also failed to consider density bonuses provided by street frontage and on-site open spaces and arcades. For many lots, the LUF contains no floor area information since the building is considered therein a residential property. In these instances, 625 square feet of gross floor area per unit was used to approximate the building's total floor area. To best reflect current FAR calculations, it was decided that information from Department of Land Utilization (DLU) permit application files should also be incorporated into the program whenever possible. HoLIS was then used to create a map representing the calculated FAR for each lot.
The calculated FAR values for each property were displayed in chloropleth map form by grouping the lots into a range of five colors depicting the density pattern throughout Waikiki. Intervals were selected that reflected the range of permitted densities under existing WSD provisions. For about a third of the properties, the DLU had the actual FAR used at the time of building permit or variance approval. This value was used as the Acalculated@ FAR. Some properties had no floor area data available from any source. In these cases the respective property had to be left out of the analysis. Fortunately, there was a very low percentage of such instances within the study area.
CALCULATED FAR MAP
A second calculation was made approximating the maximum allowable FAR for each zoning precinct in Waikiki. This determination was made by first creating models for maximum permitted FAR per zoning precinct based on a simplification of prescribed WSD standards. A model was necessary due to the complex nature of the prescribed FAR standards which differed greatly by precinct; were use-specific, with differing formulas for mixed use projects; and could, depending on location, allow density bonuses for the extent of street frontage (discussed further below), on-site open spaces and arcades. Such an intense calculation simply could not have been efficiently accomplished without HoLIS. Properties where considered "nonconforming" when the indicated density of the existing building exceeded current WSD standards. A second colored map was made to show the extent and location of properties with nonconforming density.
The regulatory FAR calculation for a building in most WSD precincts includes the amount of street frontage a property has. The allowance for street frontage is measured from the centerline of any adjacent streets; a corner lot, for instance, having a considerable advantage in terms of allowable density. Under WSD provisions, the area of a lot plus one-half the area of an abutting street is termed the "land area", which is used to determine allowable density in Waikiki. The calculated FAR, based on actual lot area, is applied to the land area to determine total permitted floor area for the property. Prior to the subject process, an assumption of 20 percent increase in lot area was used to account for the impact of abutting streets in estimating FAR by the earlier master plan consultant team.
Determining the actual bonus in land area available to eligible Waikiki lots presented an additional task for HoLIS. Such a calculation would have been so time consuming, if done for every eligible property, that it would not have been practical. For this effort, it was concluded that the 20 percent assumption was an acceptable "average" to be applied to the model being developed. Another factor which could have been used would be an average for the amount of on-site open space available to be included in appropriate FAR calculations. However, this was not done since the amount of relevant data concerning open spaces was insufficient to establish a realistic factor.
Existing land uses were also mapped to indicate whether the primary activity on a property conformed to the permitted use standards prescribed by the WSD. This map represented an estimation of the pattern of nonconforming uses in Waikiki. In reality, a project site can involve more than one lot, and it can contain numerous principal uses (some may or may not be conforming uses). Therefore, for purposes of the analysis, even if only one existing use showed up as a non-permitted use, the entire project site was Aflagged@ as a property containing a nonconforming use. The map did not show the number of nonconforming uses on a property, but revealed a locational pattern of nonconforming uses in Waikiki.
In certain cases, the LUF description of existing uses do not correspond with the enumeration of permitted uses under WSD provisions. For example, LUF activity codes do not differentiate between an apartment building used for long-term versus short-term rentals (i.e. multi-family dwelling versus hotel or transient vacation unit uses, respectively). Another database was accessed to show properties approved for transient vacation rental use. Data obtained from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) was utilized to determine hotel locations. The LUF only represents the use given at the time of building permit approval, and therefore does not necessarily indicate the current use(s) located on the property. Some field analysis was also needed to determine existing uses on certain properties. The individual findings from each of these data sources were all "plugged into" the final database for the program.
Additional colored maps were produced using HoLIS. These included:
CThe age of existing buildings, based on when the initial building permit was issued;
CThe location of properties where a Waikiki Special District permit had been issued for the construction of new buildings;
CThe location of vacant land; and
CA representation of proposed zoning precinct boundaries.
PROPOSED ZONING MAP
Once a task force majority agreed on WSD changes that could create incentives for new investment in Waikiki, a series of presentations were given to the Waikiki Neighborhood Board, community associations, business groups, the Planning Commission, the City Council and public agencies tasked with implementing the proposed changes. These meetings were held throughout the year of 1996.
The maps showing the distribution of density (FAR), nonconforming densities, nonconforming uses, building age, location of issued WSD permits, vacant lands, land ownership, and proposed changes in zoning were displayed at these meetings. This material, produced with the GIS, was extremely useful in stimulating discussion and helpful in orienting the audience to where the changes and impacts would occur.
The city Council discussed the proposed WSD amendments through the ordinance adoption process. This process involved a hearing before the Planning Commission, three successive votes by the full City Council, numerous Zoning Committee meetings, workshops and public hearings. Throughout the course of this legislative process, changes to the proposal were drafted representing input from the community, land owners, business operators and public agencies. A concurrent amendment to the General Plan was even necessitated.
On December 18, 1996, the bill was passed, becoming Ordinance No. 96-72 with the Mayor's signature. Its adoption was hailed as a positive, major step forward for Waikiki. Significant changes included:
CSimplifying the calculation of FAR for all WSD precincts;
CAdding an Apartment Mixed Use Subprecinct where by a limited number of commercial uses are allowed which can support the residential population (e.g., convenience stores, personal services, restaurants);
CReducing minimum front yards and allowing selected uses and structures to encroach into front yards (e.g., garden signs, porte cocheres, outdoor dining, lei making, vending of prepared food, drink or fresh flowers);
CAdding a planned development option for creative redevelopment projects in the Resort precincts to provide community benefits or amenities, must conform to parameters for minimum size, maximum FAR of 5.0, open space of 50 percent, among other guidelines;
CAllowing certain nonconforming structural elements to be repaired or replaced as long as there is no resultant increase in the nonconformity;
CAllowing the retention of existing nonconforming floor area for redevelopment projects;
CAdding certain principal uses (e.g., retailing, medical clinics, multi-family dwellings) to a new Resort Mixed Use Precinct (which replaced the previous Resort-Hotel Precinct); and
CAdding a public open space bonus of 10 to 1 (floor area to open space) in the Resort Commercial Precinct.
Both proponents and opponents voiced strong opinions concerning the impact these changes would have on AHawaii=s Jewel@.
The WSD is implemented through the review and approval of special district permits for development in Waikiki, administered through the DLU. Planners have access to HoLIS through their desktop PC=s and use the information to research permit applications, map the location of proposed developments, write reports and formulate their recommendations.
Without new development, redevelopment and renovation, there will ultimately be no implementation of the WSD's vision for the future, however: A green, scenic, thriving, energetic urban resort with a unique "Hawaiian sense of place"; a place where it is now possible for visitors and locals to come together and enjoy the Hawaiian experience. The DLU has seen a renewed sense of interest regarding WSD permits subsequent to the adoption of the recent WSD amendments. It is now up to Waikiki land owners and business operators to responsibly invest in their physical assets and by so doing take advantage of the new regulatory environment for Waikiki development.
Other projects have grown out of the 1996 WSD changes. In 1997 a comprehensive approach to studying the proliferation of news stands was conducted by a combined task force from various city departments and analyzed through the capabilities available in HoLIS. The mapping of existing licensed locations was compared to actual field locations. Placement of the news stands was discussed with the owners of the publications being displayed, and agreement was reached to limit news stand locations to those areas suitable for the number, size and type of display enclosure.
A proposal to allow a sign for a second floor business located in two- and three-story buildings was proposed under the original WSD amendment package. This type of sign is allowed everywhere on Oahu except Waikiki, at present. However, this measure was dropped following some community opposition. Propelled by continuing business interest, city officials including Waikiki's council member are again discussing whether to allow this type of sign. The City's GIS (HoLIS) was utilized to evaluate the number of buildings in Waikiki which could potentially use this type of sign, providing decision makers with valuable insight about the impacts this might have.
It is probably too early to draw any conclusions, but the Ashine@ appears to be returning to the AJewel@, thanks to a great deal of cooperation between citizens, businesses and public servants. The City's GIS capabilities provided everyone involved with important information and insight into the issues throughout the process.
Honolulu Department of Land Utilization. January 31, 1996. A Proposal to Amend the Land Use Ordinance (LUO) relating to the Waikiki Special District.
Honolulu Department of Land Utilization. August 1997. Land Use Ordinance. (Chapter 21, Revised Ordinances of Honolulu 1990, as amended)
Honolulu Department of Land Utilization. 1997. Waikiki Special District Design Guidelines.
Honolulu Planning Department. May 15, 1992. Waikiki Master Plan.
Name of primary author: Mark Lierman
Title or position of author: GIS Analyst
Name of organization: City and County of Honolulu, Department of Land Utilization
650 So. King St., Honolulu, HI 96813