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County eyes projects to stimulate economy, encourage low-income housing

  • Roy Takemoto

In an effort to support local businesses, the Hawaii County might introduce a paid parking scheme in downtown Hilo.

At a Tuesday meeting of the County Council’s Governmental Relations and Economic Development Committee, Managing Director Roy Takemoto presented a list of the county’s high-priority projects.

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While the highest-priority projects were, naturally, COVID-19 response efforts, Takemoto said there are some plans in the works to stimulate business activity and encourage low-income housing development.

In particular, Takemoto said the county later this year will propose a plan to establish a Business Improvement District in downtown Hilo, wherein businesses pay additional levies to support projects within the district. Within that district, the county also would allow landowners and tenants to establish a “Parking Benefit District.”

Takemoto explained that the Parking Benefit District would let landowners and tenants set parking rates for public parking lots within the area, with revenues being used to support the Business Improvement District.

“It’s a radical idea,” Takemoto said. “There are two or three cities on the mainland that are trying out Parking Benefit Districts, but tying that to a Business Improvement District is wholly new, I think.”

The Kailua Village Business Improvement District is currently the only such district on the island, but Takemoto said such districts could be established anywhere with sufficient buy-in from local businesses.

Takemoto also explained several projects to aimed at encouraging low-income housing development. He said within the next few months, the Department of Planning will unveil a bill that will, among other things, establish a definition of “kitchenette” in the county building codes.

Establishing that definition, Takemoto said, will allow homeowners to skirt a provision in the county’s residential building codes that prohibit more than one residence from using a single cesspool.

By defining kitchenettes as smaller than standard kitchens, the bill will allow homeowners to build guest homes or ohana units featuring kitchenettes without requiring an expensive upgrade from a cesspool.

Other low-income housing projects include possible subsidies for building water infrastructure, as well as a proposed “pocket neighborhood” model that arranges about 12 small residences around a communal park space.

The pocket neighborhood model is similar to the “Kauhale Initiative” proposed by Lt. Gov. Josh Green, which would construct a series of small housing clusters for the chronically homeless.

While some of these projects could see official proposals before the end of the year, Takemoto also pointed out that another priority is the administrative transition at the end of the year.

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Mayor Harry Kim will step down in December after losing his reelection bid in the primary election. Takemoto said county departments will need to remain ready to assist with projects for the new administration.

Email Michael Brestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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