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Council OKs bill rezoning Hilo Iron Works

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

In an effort to make the property more attractive to investors, the historic Hilo Iron Works has been rezoned.

The Hawaii County Council on Wednesday voted in support of a bill to rezone the 114-year-old building to bring it in compliance with the surrounding area.

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The property was permitted only “limited industrial” usage for 35 years after the 1960 tsunami, and after that plan expired, it reverted to an open zoning designation. However, there was no change in how the building was being used.

Garth Yamanaka, a representative of the property’s three owners — the Martin Anderson Declaration Trust, Norman Abraham Piianaia Revocable Living Trust and Kapoho Properties LLC — said in May that the building’s failure to comply with zoning requirements is a deterrence to investors.

In order to return the building to compliance, the owners hoped to consolidate the seven parcels of the property into four that would be properly rezoned.

Ultimately, the owners hoped the return to compliance would entice people to invest in the property.

The bill was scheduled to be passed at a meeting on June 16, but was postponed after council members made a contentious amendment.

As presented by Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder and Hilo Councilwoman Heather Kimball at the June 16 meeting, the amended proposal would include a 20-foot shoreline setback from the edge of the nearby Wailoa River for all parcels involved. Most existing structures within that setback would be grandfathered in, he said.

“There’s both state law and the county need and incentive to maintain a setback for gathering rights, for shoreline access, and you’ve got to think 20, 30, 40 years down the line,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said.

However, the owners were not pleased with the concept. Yamanaka said in June that the property owners were confused by such changes made so late in the rezoning process.

“Setting aside whether doing it like this is the right way or the right process … for one, we’re not a shoreline. We’re not considered a shoreline, so that part doesn’t make sense,” Yamanaka said. “If I owned the property and someone wanted to take something that I’m able to do away … but even if I didn’t want to do it, who am I to say that if maybe a future person wants to do it?”

Planning Director Zendo Kern said at the June meeting the county code does not require any such setback from the edges of rivers.

Furthermore, most other council members agreed that it was inappropriate for the council to attach such amendments late in the process.

The council voted against the amendment to the proposal at the June 16 meeting, and then voted to postpone the matter until Wednesday’s meeting.

Kimball apologized at Wednesday’s meeting for causing controversy with the amendment, saying she failed to communicate properly with the other council members or the property owners.

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However, Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said he believes there still should be some protections in place for the edge of Wailoa River, and was the only council member to vote against the bill on Wednesday.

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