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Council panel advances new building code

  • RODENHURST

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In what appeared to be the smoothest discussion and vote on building code amendments in more than a decade, a County Council panel Tuesday unanimously advanced changes bringing the county up to the 2018 code for new and existing residential buildings.

The council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit voted 9-0 to send Bill 44 with a favorable recommendation to the council, where it faces two more votes.

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The county administration had prepped the ground before presenting the bill, using the pandemic slowdown to consult with contractors, business groups and members of the architectural, engineering and real estate sectors and incorporating some of their suggestions into the bill before taking it to the council.

Kari Kimura, who’s worked as an architect in Kailua-Kona for 22 years, said the county needs to have a bill in place by the end of August, or it will be forced to switch to a 2012 state code that hasn’t been amended to better fit the county and then turn right around and adopt the 2018 code.

“Please understand that this is not a perfect bill,” Kimura said. “The possibility of having to design, conduct plans reviews and inspections, and build to two different codes in a two-year time period is not good for anyone — owner, builder, architect, and our Public Works Department.”

Still, some, such as Pacific Resource Partnership, representing union carpenters and contractors, characterized the bill as being “fast-tracked” and asked that it be delayed.

Others warned some changes, such as requiring sheathing under roofs and adding more requirements for factory built homes, could raise the cost of housing on the island. Most testifiers asked the council not to change the wording of the section of the code on factory built homes and their wish was granted.

Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder quizzed Acting Deputy Building Division Chief Neal Tanaka on the new requirement for sheathing under all types of roofs. Tanaka said the code prescribes a minimum of 5/8-inch sheathing when trusses are 2-foot on center and 3/4-inch sheathing when trusses are 4-foot on center.

“Given the pricing of plywood right now, that’s gonna hurt,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said.

“Lumber prices fluctuate up and down,” Tanaka replied, “but we do enforce the minimum requirements of the code.”

Still, Tanaka said, the code is prescriptive, meaning design professionals can use the code as a recipe, or they could “design it out,” proving to the county they can create the “structural load path.”

Bottom line, said Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst, safety has to prevail, although certain aspects of the code will be less onerous than in the past. For example, the old code required the entire structure to be brought up to the most current codes if renovation costs exceeded 50% of the building value, which dissuaded many from renovating their homes. Now, design professionals have more flexibility to show which components would need to be brought to code, he said.

“The purpose around these codes is to provide safety to the community,” Rodenhurst said. “These requirements are there to ensure these structural standards.”

Not everyone was satisfied the construction codes make the community more safe.

Heidi Jaworski said she’s submitted many complaints about building code violations in her Ocean View neighborhood since 2005, yet nothing happens.

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“My point here today is……why bother to amend the current codes if there isn’t any enforcement?” Jaworski said in written testimony. “I think it would be a much better use of your time, if you folks could figure out how to make our current county government systems work the way they were intended to, to protect us all, than to spend time updating rules that no one expects to enforce in the future.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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