Development and Redevelopment in a Historic District

By Kiersten Faulkner, Executive Director

With the advent of the City and County of Honolulu’s transit oriented development (TOD) project spurring many questions from the community, we wanted to take a moment to share some of our thoughts on development and redevelopment in a historic district.

The best type of redevelopment in a historic district is to use rehabilitation and adaptive use of existing structures. There are opportunities for hidden density by increasing use of currently vacant second floors in existing buildings. Many of the second floors of historic buildings could be used for housing, office, small-scale manufacturing or even retail. There are also a few underutilized lots or surface parking lots scattered in the area (especially mauka of Beretania Street) that could accommodate low-scale, new development that would fit with the scale and character of the area. Maintaining, preserving and upgrading existing buildings would also utilize the existing fabric in a way that respects the heritage and character, and also is more affordable and less environmentally damaging than new construction.

Both Chinatown and Downtown Honolulu are already transit-oriented developments, so any additions or changes to the districts should use a light touch, polishing or investing in the existing urban fabric rather than trying to re-invent the entire area.

The City’s transit oriented development (TOD) zoning overlay district specifically calls for plans, development and implementation actions to preserve individual and groupings of historic and cultural resources through the application of architectural and other design guidelines and standards for development; and also requires that TOD zones and implementing regulations include objectives addressing neighborhood character, unique community history, and protection of historic resources.  The draft Downtown TOD plan includes specific goals and objectives to protect and preserve the scale, character, architecture and features of the Chinatown Historic District. The conceptual site plan and design for the Chinatown station were revised to avoid demolition of two adjacent historic buildings.

Despite these planning, regulatory and design tools, there is still the threat that eventual development or redevelopment could be done insensitively, or in a manner that would demolish or diminish historic buildings or features. The best defense is for preservationists to insist that the development schemes follow appropriate preservation standards, and that the city be steadfast in applying its own laws and aspirations.

Further reading:

City & County of Honolulu’s website on Transit Oriented Development:

Click here to read Historic Hawaii Foundation’s comments on the Downtown TOD plan and  here for the City’s response to our comments.

2015-07-14T10:36:38+00:00 July 14th, 2015|Categories: Ask an Expert|Tags: , , , , |