Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023|
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After months of delay, the Hawaii County Council moved Wednesday to adopt changes to the county construction code.
Bill 44, a 78-page bill introduced in June, adds to the county code two chapters of the 2018 international building code — with some county-specific amendments — covering new and existing residential buildings, in an effort to streamline the county’s construction standards.
The proposed code requirements rigidly dictate various minutiae of construction, from the spacing of fasteners on wood structural panels, to the directions in which certain doors are permitted to swing, to the composition of waterproofing materials and more.
The bill has faced some pushback from builders, who have argued that the new requirements will increase the cost of building homes on the island. For example, the new code requires builders to add sheathing plywood underneath rooftops during construction, adding about $100 per plywood sheet to the cost.
However, much of the discussion Wednesday instead concerned a set of proposed amendments to the bill, championed by West Hawaii Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas. Those amendments would require factory-built housing to undergo inspections at the point of manufacture and at the building site to ensure they remain compliant with the code.
Some members of the public urged the county to impose those amendments, arguing that factory-built housing can be damaged as it’s transported to the island.
“There has always been some issue in one form or another from shipping,” wrote builder Jered Fukushima. “Most recently we received two shipping containers that were factory-built. … These being shipping containers, one would think they could handle the shipping process. Yet every window corner was ripped, every door had to be taken apart, some brackets had pulled apart. … I believe that factory-built structural integrity will not hold up to the rigors of shipping to our island.”
On the other hand, other testifiers felt that imposing additional strictures upon factory-built housing will do nothing to alleviate the county’s ongoing low-income housing shortage.
“One solution to make a dent in the 13,303 new homes that are needed to be built by 2025 is to build modular homes in a factory,” wrote Kona resident Shirley David. “… Any amendments that require keeping the walls open so that the houses can be reinspected on the house site just adds more cost and delay for the buyer.”
Darryl Oliveira, director of risk management for HPM Building Supply, wrote in opposition to the proposed amendment to the code, stating that there is no evidence to support claims that transporting factory-built structures increases the risk of structural failure.
Hilo Sen. Laura Acasio echoed Oliveira’s statement, urging the council to pass Bill 44 unaltered and make decisions on how to regulate factory-built housing at a later point.
In any case, the county has a deadline to impose the changes quickly. Deputy Corporation Counsel Dalilah Schlueter said Wednesday that if the county fails to amend the code within two years of beginning the process, it will automatically revert to the statewide 2012 code, which does not include county-specific amendments.
The county currently has a self-imposed deadline to adopt the new code by November.
“We’re looking other codes that we’ve got to update soon, too,” said Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst. “If we don’t get this done, we’re looking at a default.”
Ultimately the council voted to make amendments to the bill, but not the factory-housing-related amendments proposed by Villegas. Instead, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy presented her own amendments, which she said largely correct typographical errors and impose more consistent terminology.
The council voted 7-1 to both approve Lee Loy’s amendments and pass the amended Bill 44. In both cases, Villegas was the sole dissenter.
The bill must now pass a second reading at a future council meeting.
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