Diamond Head – Special District Design Guidelines

Throughout my nearly 30 years in the real estate industry, I’ve helped clients find their dream home all over Oahu – from little condos in Waikiki to beachfront getaways on the North Shore. However, I’ve always admired and was drawn to one neighborhood in particular. This neighborhood has close proximity to great beaches, shopping, and dining, plus it has excellent views. It’s a relatively small community with low inventory, making it a very sought-after place to live. You will find that despite commanding top dollar to live here, it does not deter would-be residents. What is this neighborhood I speak of? It is Diamond Head.

Sunset photo of Diamond Head by Rob Otis Photography

My clients have always been attracted to buy in Diamond Head because of the location to the ocean, the closeness to downtown Honolulu, Waikiki, and Kapiolani Park. These are great attributes which make commuting a breeze and allows more opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities. However, I believe there is a little more to it.

Diamond Head has that something extra that a lot of other neighborhoods do not. Most people do not notice the small details which subliminally makes a big difference. Underground telephone and electrical lines, sidewalks on both sides of the street, homes set back from the street, mature trees lining the main thoroughfares, and protected view planes. When you compound these small things together, suddenly it makes a huge impact on the ambiance of a neighborhood and instantly ups the charm and character.

By Design or By Chance?

Did you ever notice the set-back of properties, the architectural style and the way parking garages and service areas are screened from public view in the Diamond Head area? Probably not, because most people don’t spend time thinking about these things. However, I think most people who visit the Diamond Head area do notice the park-like quality the neighborhood has, but never knew it was by design.

Gorgeously updated home with wrap-around lanais, stately trees, and landscaping that compliment Diamond Head in the background

In the 1970s, there were major developments happening in the Waikiki and Diamond Head areas that concerned local law makers. Due to its worldwide recognition and significance, it was deemed very important to preserve Diamond Head and its surrounding area to ensure enjoyment for future generations.

That’s when Diamond Head and its surrounding area was designated as a Special District for protection and enhancement. The City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting issued the Special District Design Guidelines for Diamond Head [View the guidelines].

The two major objectives, as stated in the Land Use Ordinance (LUO), are:

  1. To preserve existing prominent public views and the natural appearance of Diamond Head by modifying construction projects that would diminish these resources.
  2. To preserve and enhance the park-like character of the immediate slopes of the Diamond head Monument, which includes Kapiolani Park.

To achieve these goals, properties in this area had to abide by specific building height, front yard set-back, landscape and architectural design requirements. For example, under these guidelines a property that has a fence or wall that exceeds 36 inches in height needs to be set-back a minimum of 18 inches and landscaped with vine or hedge plantings.

These homes in Diamond Head illustrate proper front yard set-back and landscaping, plus well maintained sidewalks for pedestrian usage

The effective use of vertical landscaping, lanais, and deep overhangs soften the expansive façade resulting in a less bulky appearance

Is The Neighborhood Changing?

As a resident of Diamond Head, I appreciate the open and spacious feeling when residents abide by the district guidelines. Nevertheless, the guidelines expired years ago and it is very apparent with each new construction. When people build right on their property line, it really gives the feeling of crowding.

Newly constructed home incorporating landscaping, however, it has a large and overbearing feel to it as it is so close to the street

What Do You Think?

Sometimes great things happen by chance, other times careful planning is required. When it comes to something as iconic and unique as Diamond Head, would we ever want to leave its protection to chance? Do you think the regulations are too restricting, or good planning? Should the guidelines be re-instated?

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