Council committee supports zoning amendment for Hilo Iron Works building

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Cars are parked in front of the Hilo Iron Works building on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

A Hawaii County Council committee voted in support of a zoning amendment that aims to make the historic Hilo Iron Works more attractive to investors.

The Windward Planning Commission in April voted in favor of a proposal to rezone the 114-year-old building to be in compliance with the surrounding area.

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Under an urban renewal plan outlined after the 1960 tsunami, the Iron Works building was permitted only “limited industrial” usage for 35 years. After that plan expired, the site reverted to an open zoning designation, but the building remained in the same use as before.

Therefore, the building is still being used as an industrial or commercial facility despite being on a property and surrounding area zoned as open. The fact that the building is not in conformance with the surrounding area is a deterrence to investors, said Garth Yamanaka, who represented the property’s owners during a Tuesday meeting of the council’s Committee on Planning.

Yamanaka said that, as part of the rezoning, the seven parcels of the property would be consolidated into four that would be properly rezoned as light commercial/industrial, bringing the building back into compliance.

With the building properly zoned, Yamanaka said investors will be less hesitant to finance improvements for the building. However, he added that there are no current plans for specific renovations or new tenants for the site.

Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Elizabeth Strance called the amendment “a straightforward bill for a straightforward issue.”

Committee members had some concerns about the eventual risk to the site posed by sea level rise, but Planning Director Zendo Kern said current sea level models indicate rising oceans will only significantly impact the Iron Works by about 2150.

“By the time it reaches the Iron Works, I think we’ll all have bigger problems,” Kern said, adding that, at that point, most of the Hilo Bayfront will be underwater.

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The committee voted unanimously after a brief discussion to forward the amendment to the full council.

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

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