Development Needs to be Based on Future Resources

By John Livingstone

There will always be a demand to live in paradise. It is unlikely that the supply of new homes will exceed the demand to make buying a home affordable. As the supply surges forward, it is important to do it in a sustainable way.

It is possible to determine the feasibility of maximizing development while maintaining sustainable practices based on the maximum number of housing units or development allowed by zoning regulations. This letter hopes to encourage further review of the topic and is not meant to be all inclusive. All the data needed for analysis discussed below should be readily available by the responsible agencies.

Specifically, it discusses the availability of water resources, wastewater treatment facility capacity, energy supply from the Hawaii Energy Company, landfill requirements, highway capacity, and food sustainability. It also discusses strategies to increase housing unit allowances by implementing sustainable practices such as solar power adoption, gray water usage, recycling initiatives, and improved public transportation systems.


Based on existing zoning regulations it is possible to determine the maximum number of housing units permitted within the defined zoning areas. It is also possible to calculate the average water consumption needed per household. If you take the maximum number of housing units allowed, multiplied by the average water consumption it is possible to calculate future water needs and identify if the current water sources will be able to accommodate this. If the number of housing units is limited by future water availability, it will encourage both the development community and the government to find solutions before running up against the maximum amount of fresh water available. This could bring development to a sudden stop or cause emergency water conservation throughout the island. Knowing this in advance would encourage developers to work with the City to solve the problem. Solutions include having new or existing subdivisions reduce landscaped areas and use more drought tolerant plants. Retrofitting old homes and requiring new homes to have gray water from sinks and showers diverted into landscaped areas would also reduce water consumption and reduce water going to the wastewater facility. Another possibility would be the construction of desalinization plants or new reservoirs. This letter hopes to encourage the analysis of these options by experts in the field and encourage government funds to be designated for the future needs identified by the data.

In addition to finding innovative ways to limit water use, it is also important to be a good steward of the existing water supply. Testing the water in streams for pollutants is important for reducing contamination. Samples should be taken at the highest point of supply for pollutants. As the tests move down stream and areas are found to test positive for pollutants, a search for illegal outfalls, old sewer systems and other contributors can be conducted. As our streams and rivers are improved so will our food supply and recreation areas like the Ala Wai canal that have been underutilized for years and could become an asset for fishing and recreation.


Evaluating the island's wastewater treatment facility's capacity based on the maximum allowed number of housing units is essential. Using the average wastewater discharge for a residential unit multiplied by the maximum number of units allowed by the zoning should provide a picture of the future wastewater needs required to keep up with the demand of new development. Examining the existing infrastructure's capability and identifying potential enhancements, such as incorporating gray water systems, to reduce the strain on the facility needs to be reviewed.


Assessing the energy supply from the Hawaii Energy Company and the average energy consumption per household is crucial to determine the feasibility of supporting new housing units and an increase in electric cars. As energy demands exceed energy supplies, the City will need to incorporate more solar and wind power technologies to increase energy production. There are currently several companies working on producing small wind turbines for single family residential uses. Hawaii would be an ideal location to be on the forefront of using the turbines along with the solar power and battery storage. Requiring new homes to be built with solar and battery storage would be one way to decrease the impact to the existing electrical grid. The initial cost of the systems could be offset by buying in bulk, government assistance, and other creative solutions that become possible when it becomes a community priority. The long-term benefits to upgrading the infrastructure and lowering the cost to live in Hawaii would benefit the entire community. Short term ideas may be turning off streetlights for several hours or having them upgraded with motion detectors. Some neighborhoods may volunteer to have the streetlights turned off for a special star gazing night or during a full moon. Some cities don’t allow streetlights to reduce light pollution and save on maintenance costs.


Additional landfill capacity is necessary to accommodate the additional waste generated by the increased number of households. An analysis of this, not to mention a location for it, needs to be explored. Additional recycling and composting strategies to reduce landfill is critical when living on an island. In addition, legislators may also limit the use of products that contribute to the landfill as done in the past with Styrofoam body boards. Another example is a European Union law that requires phone manufacturers to adopt a common charging connection by December 2024 to save consumers money and cut waste. The costs associated with replacing parts of household appliances is often so high it is more practical to buy a new product. This is often referred to as planned obsolescence. France became the world’s first country to legislate against this and requires appliances to be labeled with a rating for its life span and repairability.

Highway Capacity

Assessing the impact of increased housing units on transportation infrastructure is essential to avoid congestion and ensure smooth traffic flow. It is necessary to review the capacity of major highways and estimate the trips generated by each housing unit. Improved public transportation systems will be needed to mitigate the impacts of additional traffic such as buses, light rail, and zipper lanes. As the freeways are already congested further innovation will be required. Providing workforce housing on site or daycare could reduce trip generation. There is a very positive impact of having on-site childcare. Employer’s that offer on-site childcare have high rates of employee retention and long lists of people hoping to work there. It keeps parents from racing to drop off or pick up children and allows the children to see where their parents work and have time to see their parents during lunch breaks or talk with them while driving home creating a healthier environment for parents and children. Some cities have required childcare impact fees to promote this use. Promoting bicycling and walking by creating safe sidewalks is also important. Separating the sidewalk from the street with a landscaped parking strip, where the light posts and fire hydrants can be located, encourages this use.


Examining the food requirements to sustain new residents is crucial for ensuring long-term food security. Promoting local agriculture, community gardens, and sustainable food production to support the increased population is necessary. Requiring large subdivisions to provide community garden areas and fruit trees as an alternative to street trees would assist with this. The goal would be to have enough food grown on the island that products shipped from the mainland would not be required for survival.

Emergency services

Residential housing is one of the uses that requires higher rates of emergency services. Cities may require new projects that have an increased height or density to pay for additional emergency services including specialized fire equipment. The current police staffing shortage could be made a priority after reviewing the existing and proposed population figures compared to the number of officers. Programs to attract new police officers and retain them, such as providing a $100,000 down payment for a home in an area with a higher than usual crime rates with a forgiveness clause at 10% a year could be used. This program provides a public benefit while encouraging officers to stay with the force for a minimum of ten years. The program could also be offered to existing officers to help with retention.


This letter highlights the importance of aligning housing unit allowances with the capacity of existing infrastructure. By considering water resources, wastewater treatment, energy supply, landfill requirements, highway capacity, and food sustainability, city officials can ensure the sustainable development of communities. Additionally, implementing sustainable practices such as solar and wind power, gray water usage, recycling initiatives, and improved public transportation, can offset the increase in housing units while conserving infrastructure requirements and minimizing environmental impacts. Once the numbers have been calculated the community can work together to focus on the problems with the greatest impact.

Living on an island without the luxury of driving to a nearby community for resources requires stewardship and innovation. The City needs to ensure that the resources are available in the future and that the island could be sustainable without assistance from the mainland. This goal may seem unachievable but is worth striving for. The numbers comparing housing units to infrastructure should be published in a simple manner that is readily accessible to everyone. This can help promote everyone working together with the community leaders to encourage sustainable development of the island.

The views discussed in this article are those of the contributing author and do not reflect those of the APA Hawai‘i Chapter.