Tuesday, February 23, 1999

Planned changes
in land-use law
spark city debate

A public hearing on the
many proposed changes will be
held at 2 p.m. tomorrow

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


Mayor Jeremy Harris wants the city to process administrative land use permits within 45 to 90 days or else they would be approved automatically.

But City Council Zoning Chairwoman Donna Mercado Kim and others say it's a bad idea to give automatic approvals for expediency.

The discord is over one of myriad changes proposed in the administration's 400-page bill making sweeping revisions to the city Land Use Ordinance.

The bill is up for public hearing at 2 p.m. tomorrow, when the Council meets at the Pali Golf Course clubhouse.

A person seeking a permit from the city "needs and deserves to have an answer within a specific time," Harris said.

The change "forces the department to act on these things," the mayor said, rather than taking "months and months and months."

Kim's draft of the bill would automatically deny a permit application if not acted on within a specified time.

Kim said she changed Harris' proposal at the request of Councilman Steve Holmes, and because it made sense.

The administration's plan allows for an extension at the request of the developer. Kim said the administration could threaten developers with a denial unless they ask for more time.

"We need to pressure (the planning staff) into doing their homework," Kim said.

Automatic approval "is bad public policy," wrote David "Kimo" Frankel, former head of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter.

A bureaucratic mix-up or a short-staffed Planning and Permitting Department could lead to careless reviews and approvals that otherwise wouldn't be given, he said.

Developer advocates, such as the Hawaii Developers' Council and the Hawaii Business Roundtable, are hailing the overall bill as long overdue. But others are wondering if the changes are too accommodating for developers.

Arlene Kim Ellis of the League of Women Voters of Honolulu said nondeveloper participation has been lacking. "There is far more involved here than efficiency, economy and convenience," she wrote. "The future of our island may be at stake."

Kim has made changes in other sections, but the administration wants some of its original proposals to stand.

"We are evaluating and commenting on each of the proposals made (in the new draft)," said Planning and Permitting Director Jan Sullivan.

For instance, the mayor's plan calls for parking requirements to be reduced for several uses including convenience stores, food and grocery stores, hotel dwelling units outside Waikiki, publishing plants and wholesale businesses. Kim proposes adding back some of the requirements.

The administration is further changing some permitted uses from major to minor permit classification. For instance, Sullivan said, an existing church that needs a roof in the Waikiki Special District now has to hire professional planners and architects and go through a public hearing. That wouldn't be necessary under a minor permit.

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