Banyan Drive revitalization bill fails to move in Legislature

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A truck drives down Banyan Drive past a welcome sign in Hilo on Thursday.

Another attempt in the state Legislature to revitalize Banyan Drive and the surrounding area appears to have failed yet again.

House Bill 467 is the latest in a string of annual measures that sought to designate the state lands on the Waiakea peninsula as a redevelopment district in order to make some much-needed improvements to the area.

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Hilo Rep. Chris Todd, who co-introduced the bill, said similar bills have failed to pass every year in the Legislature for close to 10 years. And HB 467 likely will join their ranks, as it has made zero progress since the beginning of March.

After crossing over into the Senate, the bill was referred to two committees: the Senate committee on Water and Land and a joint committee between the Ways and Means and Judiciary committees. No hearing on the bill has been scheduled in either committee.

Todd said there is likely no way to salvage the bill during this legislative session, explaining that amending a surviving bill and replacing its text wholesale with that of HB 467 will probably not be an option this year. Instead, Todd said he will simply have to try again next year.

“I’m trying my best to stay patient,” Todd said. “I thought we had broad support for this one this time around. It seemed like the perfect time to start teeing up renovations (for Banyan Drive).”

The bill — like most its previous incarnations — was generally popular among testifiers at its House committee hearings.

The redevelopment district entailed by the bill would redirect 50% of income generated by the public lands back into the district, to be spent at the discretion of an appointed Waiakea Peninsula Redevelopment Committee.

“The current framework for management of the Waiakea peninsula has been sub-par to market expectations, which is having a harmful effect on the economy of East Hawaii,” wrote Cory Aguiar, administer of the similar Kanoelehua Industrial Area Association. “The passing of HB 467 … will help to push policy in the right direction as local expertise has an opportunity to be a part of a redevelopment district that will allow public lands to be managed properly which in turn will help the sites on the Waiakea peninsula to be revitalized and relevant in today’s market.”

A companion bill in the Senate was introduced at the same time as the House bill by Hilo Sen. Lorraine Inouye, but was deferred in February by the Water and Land Committee, which Inouye chairs.

“We’ve had 12 years of doing nothing on this,” Inouye said. “And, I think, if we’re setting up another one of these committees, we’re going to lose another four years.”

Inouye said she deferred the Senate companion bill because new Mayor Mitch Roth, who took office in December, hadn’t had a chance to discuss the matter with her. After that bill died, she said, she had a chance to speak with Roth, but told him that the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which currently manages the Waiakea lands, has its own ongoing plans for the area.

The DLNR was one of the only organizations opposed to the bill during its House committees, listing several problems the Department had with the bill, including the addition of another layer of bureaucracy and depriving the DLNR of a substantial source of revenue. It also listed several pending projects, including renovations for the Grand Naniloa Hotel, and other planning projects for Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel.

Inouye said she agrees with the DLNR’s criticisms of the bill, and added that she believes it would be bad practice to adopt a bill that would directly interfere with the DLNR’s ongoing bidding processes with contractors.

“The DLNR has plans, things are moving here,” Inouye said. “I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to get development happening, and I think the DLNR will be able to move faster.”

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With the bills dead yet again this year, Todd said he has no choice but to try again in 2022.

“It can be frustrating to always get this going every year and have to argue for it over and over again,” Todd said. “But it’s a long-term project, and we have to take a more long-term vision for the area.”

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