Banyan bills introduced: Options on table to revitalize area

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo
    Hilo Bayfront Trails project organizer and president Peter Kubota participates in public testimony during a Banyan Drive Hawaii Redevelopment Agency meeting in 2016.

Lawmakers will have several options to consider during the current session of the state Legislature for revitalizing Hilo’s Banyan Drive.

The legislation aims to either support Hawaii County’s redevelopment district for the area, also known as the Waiakea Peninsula, to set guidelines for state-led redevelopment districts, or provide other options for the county to fund improvements.

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The county formed a redevelopment district in 2016 under the state’s urban renewal law, but those efforts have stalled as it awaits support from the state, which owns most of the land. Legislation intended to support redevelopment in the area failed to pass last year.

Sen. Kai Kahele, who signed his name to the three versions, said he prefers letting the county take the lead, with financial help from the state.

“It’s like the ultimate home rule agency,” he said, regarding the county’s redevelopment district, which includes a volunteer board.

But Kahele, D-Hilo, said he hopes presenting the options will increase the chances of a bill passing.

“I’m trying to put out the buffet and see what we can get,” he said. “We need to bring home the bacon for Hilo in 2018.”

One piece of legislation, Senate Bill 2972, would divert 25 percent of revenue the state gets from its land leases in the area to support the county’s redevelopment efforts. The state also would contribute $250,000 to craft a master plan if the county matches it, Kahele said.

The board of the county’s redevelopment district approved a conceptual development plan in October 2016, but crafting a master plan and environmental impact statement to see it through is expected to be costly. At the redevelopment board’s last meeting in November, county Deputy Planning Director Daryn Arai estimated that would cost at least $500,000 and take two years to complete.

During the meeting, board chairman Brian De Lima suggested they bite off a smaller piece and apply the concept to properties with leases nearing expiration. He said there would not need to be an EIS if the building’s footprint remained the same.

“All I’m trying to do is think a little bit out of the box to facilitate investment,” De Lima said then. “Now, we’re not of any help.”

He didn’t return a phone call Thursday seeking comment by deadline.

House Bill 2641 and SB 3058 follow a different route.

They outline a process for state-led redevelopment districts for public lands. Members of the redevelopment districts would be appointed by the governor, with the chairperson of the board and Land and Natural Resources and a county planning director serving as ex-officio members.

The bills also would allow land leases for hotels and other uses to be extended if the lessee makes substantial improvements.

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Another bill, SB 3057, would allow counties to use “land-based financing” to support developments within improvement districts. That includes an unspecified property tax assessment.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.