Owners of Hilo Iron Works building request change of zoning

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Cars are parked Thursday in front of the Hilo Iron Works building.

The owners of Hilo Iron Works hope to make the historic building more attractive to investors, but have no plans to renovate it themselves.

The building, which was built in 1907, was the subject of a Windward Planning Commission discussion Thursday, with the owners of the building requesting a change of zoning for the site in order to make working with the building more palatable for developers.


Currently, the property is not conforming with the zoning requirements of the area, explained Garth Yamanaka, who represented the three owners: the Martin Anderson Declaration Trust, Norman Abraham Piianaia Revocable Living Trust and Kapoho Properties LLC, which took ownership of the site more than 30 years ago.

The site is zoned as Open, like much of the surrounding area, because of its presence within Hilo’s tsunami inundation zones, but the building is used as a light commercial/industrial facility.

The fact that the building is non-conforming is a deterrent to making improvements, Yamanaka said.

“Lenders view non-conforming use as a high-risk property,” Yamanaka said. “Risk also affects the cost of financing, so even if it is available, it will be at a higher-than-typical rate … . The impact can be seen in the incomplete revitalization of the site. Portions of the site need repair, but without the ability to finance, the ability to attract the best tenants for the site, it creates economic hardship for the landowners.”

To rectify this, the three owners requested that the property be rearranged into four parcels that are rezoned into Light Industrial/Commercial, thus placing the building back into a conforming use.

“We always saw the property as the gateway to downtown Hilo,” said Vern Yamanaka, Garth’s father, who also represented the owners Thursday. Vern Yamanaka said restoring the property from its current disrepair could bring back dozens of jobs to Hilo.

However, both Yamanakas repeated that there are no current development plans for the property. Garth Yamanaka said there have been several parties — including restaurants and a brewery — interested in investing in the property, because of its location, but the zoning issues have remained a deterrent.

Should the rezoning of the property attract more interest in redeveloping or renovating the property, Garth Yamanaka said the owners will entertain that interest, but will not pursue development on their own.

“The goal isn’t to develop everything at this point in time for future use, whether its the current owners or some future owners,” Yamanaka said. “Interest is great, but it’s just been hard to get things done.”


The Windward Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of the rezoning and forwarded a positive recommendation to the Hawaii County Council.

Email Michael Brestovansky at

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