A state agency in Hawaii is still hashing out its decision regarding its “Glass Rule,” which could impact the way buildings are designed in Honolulu or force a costly fix on a new building.

Rendering of the Symphony Honolulu building, via Oliver McMillan
Rendering of the Symphony Honolulu building, via Oliver McMillan

After the fifth public hearing on the matter last week, the Hawaii Community Development Agency (HCDA) had yet to decide whether or not it would waive a rule that requires highrise projects in the Kakaako district to utilize glass with a visible light transmission (VLT) of 50 percent or greater.

Developer Oliver McMillan Pacific Rim (OMPR) has petitioned that the rule be waived for its under-construction Symphony Honolulu building due to its supposed conflict with green building requirements in the area. The glass being installed on the project has a VLT of 28 percent, though the developer insists that the glazing was selected in accordance with the area’s green building rule and can’t meet both.

OMPR notes in its filing that “the more visible light that passes through the glass, the higher the SHGC, which in turn results in more heat gain or buildup on the interior of the building. … There is a direct correlation between VLT, SHGC, and the overall performance of various glazing systems.”

The developer points out that the glass rule was created in 2011 to regulate glass reflectivity. However, OMPR’s glazing expert Jon Weir testified that VLT is not a performance attribute of glass but an aesthetic one, and the HCDA’s mechanical engineering expert testified that “[a] high VLT does not necessarily relate to a low external reflectance.”

The developer claims it has found no glazing product that can achieve the authority’s 50-percent VLT rule while still meeting the 10-percent energy performance increase required by code.

The nine-member HCDA board again met for nearly three hours last week to go over additional testimony from industry experts and the public. Because most of the glass façade has already been installed and the building is expected to be completed in less than a year, millions of dollars could be hanging in the balance.

John Whalen, chairperson of the HCDA board, told local news outlet KHON2 that the delayed decision is due to the complexity of technical issues involved.

“Not a lot of the board members really have expertise in this area,” he said. “So we have to listen to testimony from people who are experts in this area and can advise us what will be the best course of action. We have to be aware and if it is a significant decision like removing the glass, that it is very well-founded decision and if we are looking for another form of mitigation, that it’s an effective one.”

In the latest round of public testimonies, 19 more people have voiced support, with 10 opposing. Prior to the most recent meeting, 65 people voiced support and just three opposed the developer’s request to waive the glass rule according to the available public testimony documents for that hearing.

Many in favor of waiving the rule state that the current VLT requirement doesn’t necessarily address what the HCDA intended to accomplish regarding reflectivity, and others assert that because future residents are already locked into their purchase, it would be unfair to delay construction and raise cost after the project had been approved and nearly completed. Arguments in opposition claim that the developer should have to follow the rule as written and that allowing the rule to be waived for a particular project would set a bad precedent.

Another hearing on the matter will be held September 16.

The authority is also dealing with a similar situation regarding another project in the area. Developer Downtown Capital LLC is asking for the authority to waive or permanently suspend the glass rule for its already completed “Tower A” project and that the waiver or permanent suspension be retroactive to December 5, 2012, when the building permit was approved. In the petition, the developer notes that during the approval process, HCDA never asked about the VLT of the glazing, and after the discrepancy was discovered, HDCA approved the project’s certificate of occupancy with the understanding that the developer would submit the petition. The project utilizes glass with a 35-percent VLT.