Temporary canopies approved as Hilo Farmers Market makes progress to comply with codes

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Shoppers walk through Hilo Farmers Market as it begins to shut down Tuesday in downtown Hilo.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Shoppers walk through the Hilo Farmers Market as it begins to shut down Tuesday in downtown Hilo.

New tarp-tent structures were installed on the produce side of Hilo Farmers Market. The new tarps are fire-retardant and comply with the county’s standards for temporary structures in the Special Management Area where the popular open-air market operates.

Whether the market, recognized as one of the nation’s best, is in complete compliance with county building, zoning and fire codes appears to be a trickier proposition, however.

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Since March 19, the county had been fining the market $4,000 a day — $1,000 a day for each of four tax-map-key parcels the market occupies — for continued noncompliance with codes.

The pop-up tents on the produce side of the market were removed June 14, and the fire-retardant tarp-tents were installed by June 18, according to the county.

“By erecting these approved improvements, the daily violation fines will stop for the parcels where these improvements have been approved and erected,” said Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, in an email. “These temporary improvements are allowed to stay up for 180 days. During this time of the temporary structures, we expect the owner to submit building permit plans for the permanent improvements and have these financed and constructed by the end of the 180 days.”

“We’ve already started on our permitting process for our permanent structures with the county. That is already in the works,” market owner and operator Keith De La Cruz said Tuesday. De La Cruz said he’s working with Koa Architects, a Big Island firm with Hilo and Waimea offices.

According to an email from Barett Otani, spokesman for the county’s Public Works Department, a permit application for permanent plans has not been submitted. He said the market has been fined $88,000 as of May 21, the last date for which a “solid figure” has been tabulated.

“All the days that nothing was erected, they were in compliance. When the canopy, the fire-retardant one they got the approval for went up, they were in compliance,” Otani said. “But one day after that, somebody put something else up and they’re not in compliance. So it’s hard to nail down days when they are in compliance and when they aren’t. So some days fines are being accrued and other days not. It changes day to day.”

According to Otani, De La Cruz has paid $4,000 in fines. He added that inspectors are still monitoring the market for compliance “on a daily basis.”

Pop-up tents De La Cruz required merchants to supply, erect and dismantle daily are still evident on the arts-and-crafts side of the market, across Mamo Street from the produce vendors. Otani said in April those tents “do not comply with code.”

The market closed for a day March 25 to remove the original tarp and some wiring the county said didn’t meet fire codes. It was then that the 10-by-10-foot pop-up tents appeared, giving the market what one vendor described as “the appearance of a favela” — the Brazilian term for a shanty town.

De La Cruz said he’s awaiting another shipment of fire-retardant tarp-tents for the crafts market.

“We’re hoping to get our other shipment sometime next week. And we hope to have the rest of the market done … sometime early next week.”

Takemoto said in March the county has been working with De La Cruz to try to get the market in compliance with SMA permit requirements. The SMA permit is needed because of the market’s proximity to the shoreline and its location in a tsunami inundation and flood hazard zone.

“We’re trying to work with him as best we can but he, all this time, was noncompliant,” Otani said. “As far as the (fines) go, they’re being negotiated with Corporation Counsel’s office.”

“We’re working with them on that; we can’t go into details on that,” De La Cruz acknowledged Tuesday. “We’ve had several meetings, and they’re all pretty positive. We’re moving forward.”

The original permanent structure plans submitted by De La Cruz, with an estimated price tag of about $5 million, were scrapped, despite an SMA permit issued by the Planning Commission, because of the economic downturn during the Great Recession. De La Cruz’s second set of plans, submitted in 2015, called for a 20-foot-high prefab structure with a cost of about $1 million.

De La Cruz said in March that he was in the process of “scaling down the scaled-down version” for resubmittal.

According to De La Cruz, the market “did lose a few vendors when we had to take down the tarps.”

He also noted the market has been negatively affected by the ongoing eruption in the lower East Rift Zone of Kilauea volcano in lower Puna.

“I can’t put a number on it, but it’s had an effect on the farmers and the products at the market,” De La Cruz said. “We have a number of vendors at our market that have lost homes. Crops have been affected negatively because of the laze and the fumes. Orchid farmers, papaya farmers, general vegetable farmers, they’ve all been affected in that immediate area. It’s a sad situation, and we are trying to help. We’re co-sponsoring, along with the Food Basket and the national company Sioux Honey, doing a fresh produce food drive to get fresh produce and raise donations for those affected by the lava.”

The Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s food bank, started the drive this past Saturday. Plans are for the donation booth to be at the market from 7 a.m.-noon today and Saturday.

De La Cruz thanked customers, vendors and the community “for their continued patience.”

County Councilman Aaron Chung, who represents downtown Hilo, sponsored a bill, since approved by the council, allowing the county to set up a farmers market in Mooheau Park, across the street from Hilo Farmers Market.

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“Basically, this was just a fallback position for the county and for our community,” Chung said Tuesday. “… It may never be used as a farmers market, and I’m hoping that it never will be used. I think Mr. De La Cruz and Roy Takemoto have done a good job of working together, and it appears to me that progress is being made. And, I think, in the end, something good will happen, and the community is going to benefit from it.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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