By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Plans for a new apartment complex could help address a shortage of housing for University of Hawaii at Hilo students.
Members of the Hawaii County Council Committee on Planning are scheduled to discuss today a rezoning application that would make way for a new 14-unit apartment complex makai of Kinoole Street about 400 feet north of West Ohea Street. That’s located between the UHH and Hawaii Community College campuses.
The project was previously recommended for approval in January by the Windward Planning Commission in a unanimous vote, and council members Dennis Onishi and Brittany Smart moved that the rezoning be approved. The committee is scheduled to meet on the matter today at 4 p.m. in council chambers.
UHH University Relations Director Gerald DeMello said Tuesday that he was unaware of the plans for the project, but said housing continues to be an issue for the growing campus. Construction is currently under way on Phase I of UHH’s University Village, which would make 300 new beds available to students for on-campus housing.
“The reason that we’re building student housing is because students get admitted every year, and then if we can’t provide them with housing, they opt not to come,” De Mello said. “We want to ensure that they’re on campus with a strong program for student life. That’s been our challenge for years.”
Construction of the University Village is expected to be complete by the spring, and the facility should be open for business by fall 2013, he said.
A long-term goal for the university, De Mello added, is for all freshmen to one day be housed on campus. Last academic year, the school saw record enrollment of 4,100 students but was only able to provide on-campus housing for 622, or about 15 percent.
Original plans for the private apartment complex call for 14 three-bedroom units, for a total of 42 bedrooms, said property owner Thomas Winegar. This is the first apartment complex for him and his wife, Susan Furchgott. They also renovated and now rent out a home in Pepeekeo.
“We purchased the property in 2009 or 2010,” Winegar said of the 42,660-square-foot piece of land on Kinoole. “We had really just thought about investing in our community a little bit with our retirement monies. … The more we looked at it, the more it just seemed like the location was very good for university students.”
The project’s plans were presented to neighbors in the area in May in a series of community meetings, Winegar said. The public was largely receptive to the plans as a result of the university housing shortage. But, he said, there was some pushback from neighbors close to the property.
“My closest neighbors are not that pleased, so we’re trying to do mitigations for some of their concerns,” he said.
Winegar said he and his wife are looking at reducing the density of the development by about 25 percent to address his neighbors’ complaints concerning the possibility of increased traffic and noise. Parking also was a concern, and the couple is looking at boosting the planned 27 spaces to 34.
“There’s no parking on the road in front of that property, and the neighbors are concerned about people making trouble parking out in front there. We want to put it in the rules (for the renters) that parking is the residents’ responsibility. We can’t hurt the neighbors. We don’t want any trouble,” Winegar said.
Winegar is a computer programmer, and his wife works as a graphic artist. The pair moved to Hawaii Island from San Francisco, Calif., in 1993. They live in Hakalau.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.