February 1989 Home   Newsletters

March 1989

April 1989

League Members' Discussion Meeting
President's Message (Arlene Ellis)
500-foot Height Limit for Downtown Honolulu? -- Some Pros and Cons (Astrid Monson)
Sources and Uses of City Funds
Proposed Budget 1989-90
Nominating Committee Report
Annual Meeting
Urgent! Help Needed for Vote Count
Senate Resolution
Women's Equality -- Women's Lives

A 500-foot Height Limit for Downtown Honolulu? -- Some Pros and Cons

The City Department of General Planning, supported by the Downtown Improvement Association is calling for increasing maximum heights in Honolulu's downtown area from 350 to 500 feet. Eventually this will in all probability be followed by an increase in the maximum permitted FAR (ratio of building floor area to area of the lot). Here are some arguments put forward by proponents and opponents of the proposal:


  1. The 350-foot height limit makes for a monotonous skyline. Raising the limit would make possible a greater variety of heights.

  2. Honolulu's height limits are low, when compared with those of New York, Chicago, or other large cities.

  3. Our Downtown is running out of buildable sites. Permitting more intense development on those we have would postpone the date when no more land is available.

  4. Permitting more floor area on those sites which are developed would decrease the pressure on sites with historic buildings on them, making it possible to preserve these buildings longer.

  5. Higher buildings would provide more open space.


  1. Not all buildings are built to the maximum. If they were, then 500 feet would be no less monotonous than 350 feet or any other maximum height.

  2. Honolulu's population is only a fraction of that of the large cities cited as having higher limits. Heights of 500 feet are greatly out of proportion with the limited size of our downtown area.

  3. Unlike practically all major U.S. cities, our Downtown's functions do not include the department stores, hotels, theaters, and restaurants which make up the typical downtown. These are in Waikiki, Ala Moana, and other major commercial centers.

  4. Higher densities would increase land values and potential development profits. This would as likely as not increase, not decrease, pressures to replace existing low-rise historic buildings with the now more economically advantageous high-risers.

  5. Traffic congestion, parking needs, pedestrian volumes, air pollution and the other usual results of excessively dense development inevitably would increase if higher and denser development were allowed in the relatively small downtown financial center. Views would be constricted and air circulation impeded.

  6. There is still considerable potential on sites currently developed with low-rise non-historic buildings. If only half the currently zoned floor area's unused potential in the downtown financial district were realized, enough additional floor areas could be built to last 45 to 50 years at the rate of construction cited by the Downtown Improvement Asso¬ciation. Executive Center's inappropriate use in the heart of downtown can be changed.

  7. In 1916 New York City. enacted the nation's first Zoning Code, partly in reaction against such excessively high buildings in the Wall Street Area as the Bankers' Trust building (1912, 41 stories), the Woolworth building (1913, 60 stories), and 120 Broadway (1915, 44 stories). Yet the average height of the 63 major structures built in the Wall Street area between 1890 and 1916 was only 21 stories. The 16 built between 1917 and 1925 averaged 18 stories. Heights of 500 feet, as now proposed for Honolulu, allow up to 55 stories.

  8. Increasing height limits would increase pressure for greater densities, as otherwise there would be no advantage to developers in incurring the greater costs of construction involved in taller, slimmer buildings with no increase in floor area.

  9. The typical downtown Honolulu building has a broad base often 4 to 6 stories high, which covers a large portion of the lot--with only required yards and the amount of open space needed to earn the maximum floor area bonus left open at ground area level. The rest of the building rises above the base in the form of a more or less slim tower. As height increases, the tower can be slimmer, but this does not affect the open space where it counts--at ground level. If FAR is increased, the tower is no slimmer -- just taller.

Astrid Monson
Planning and Zoning Chair

February 1989 Home   Newsletters April 1989