Saturday, January 2, 1999

Hearing set to
clarify ruling on
Hawaii County
zoning law

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Hawaii County, in a quandary over what it can lawfully do with zoning requests, is asking a judge to clarify what action to take since he declared the county zoning law improperly enacted.

A hearing before Kona Judge Ronald Ibarra is set for Wednesday.

On Dec. 18, Ibarra ruled that the County Council violated the state Sunshine Law in 1996 when it passed a major revision of the zoning code without giving the public a step-by-step description of proposed changes.

Ibarra called the Council's violation of the Sunshine Law willful and declared the 165-page zoning law voidable. He gave the Council until Sept. 1 to properly enact it, or it becomes void.

Environmentalists Jerry Rothstein and Judith Graham filed the suit to block the law. Rothstein listed some of its details.

"The bill contained major changes relating to golf courses, heliports, commercial theme and amusement parks, contested case hearings and the Council's oversight of the width of shoreline setback," he said.

The zoning bill went through eight drafts by the time the Council approved it.

"However, the drafts that the then-Council made available to the public were not marked to show these and other changes," Rothstein said.

Ibarra noted that the Council from the second draft onward removed markings in the text that would show old and new language.

Following the ruling, county Planning Director Virginia Goldstein said she didn't know what to do with new permit applications.

For example, since the zoning law is not yet void, an application for a bed-and-breakfast establishment might be approved under it.

But in reconsidering the law, the 1999 Council may decide on a different version, putting the bed-and-breakfast in limbo.

"If the County Council chooses not to ratify (the 1996 version), what is our liability?" Goldstein asked.

County lawyer Richard Wurdemann wrote an opinion on Ibarra's ruling, but Mayor Stephen Yamashiro said he wants word directly from the judge.

"An opinion gives some comfort but it's still only an opinion," he said.

Rothstein said more is at stake than zoning. "We hope the Council will change its procedures," he said.

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