Farmers market plans submitted

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Shoppers look at fruit in October at the Hilo Farmers Market in downtown Hilo.

The owner of the Hilo Farmers Market submitted plans last month for permanent canopies over the open-air market in an attempt to comply with the county’s fire, building and zoning codes.

The market, considered to be one of the nation’s best farmers markets, has been in violation of the county’s standards for temporary structures and has incurred daily fines for every day of noncompliance since March 19, at a rate of $4,000 a day — $1,000 a day for each of the four parcels occupied by the market.

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Thanks to a temporary structure permit, the tarp-tents currently over the market were approved in June and were permitted to stand for 180 days. That permit expired on Dec. 14.

However, on Dec. 14, market owner Keith De La Cruz submitted plans for permanent structures over the market to the county’s Department of Public Works Building Division, which are now undergoing an approval process.

De La Cruz said the submitted plans entail permanent canopies over the four market parcels, similar to sunshades over parking lots.

“We’ve looked into sustainable practices at other farmers markets, and so there will be solar panels on them as well,” De La Cruz said.

De La Cruz is working closely with the county and the office of Mayor Harry Kim to ensure compliance and keep the market, a prominent Hilo attraction and a source of livelihood for island farmers, in operation.

“For a while, we thought they would not make that deadline,” said Kim said last week. “We have been very strict in imposing deadlines on them.”

Kim said that the fines imposed upon the market may be suspended depending on De La Cruz’s ability to meet construction deadlines, although he added that some of the fines incurred will have to be paid.

According to an order by the Department of Public Works, the market had incurred $212,000 in fines by Oct. 5.

Kim said the market is a valuable fixture of the community, but added that “the community needs to be reminded … if you have building codes or requirements … you can’t just build what you want to build.”

Neil Erickson, plans examining manager at the Building Division, said it likely will take several months to approve the plans, while De La Cruz expects to start putting up the structures in “four to six months.”

Kim, meanwhile, said De La Cruz has a six-month deadline to begin construction.

While the canopies are being constructed, the market will be unusable. Kim said that, rather than shut down the market for an indefinite period of time, he is looking into opening a temporary location for it, likely at Mo‘oheau Park directly across from the market.

The farmers market, though a popular attraction, has had a lengthy history of noncompliance with county zoning, building and fire codes over the years.

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A statement made by Kim in March noted that the market has been operating for more than 20 years without the necessary building permits for its temporary structures, and was permitted to continue operating “in deference to constantly changing plans proposed by the owner,” none of which ever came to fruition.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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