Temporary canopies approved as Hilo Farmers Market makes progress to comply with codes

  • Shoppers walk through the Hilo Farmers Market as it begins to shut down Tuesday in downtown Hilo. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
  • Shoppers walk through the Hilo Farmers Market as it begins to shut down Tuesday in downtown Hilo. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — New tarp-tent structures have been installed on the produce side of Hilo Farmers Market. The new tarps are fire-retardant and comply with the county’s standards for temporary structures in the Special Management Area where the popular open-air market operates.

Whether the market, recognized as one of the nation’s best, is in complete compliance with county building, zoning and fire codes appears to be a trickier proposition, however. Since March 19, the county had been fining the market $4,000 a day — $1,000 a day for each of four tax-map-key parcels the market occupies — for continued noncompliance with codes.

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The pop-up tents on the produce side of the market were removed June 14, and the fire-retardant tarp-tents were installed by June 18, according to the county.

“By erecting these approved improvements, the daily violation fines will stop for the parcels where these improvements have been approved and erected,” Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, said in an email. “These temporary improvements are allowed to stay up for 180 days. During this time of the temporary structures, we expect the owner to submit building permit plans for the permanent improvements and have these financed and constructed by the end of the 180 days.”

“We’ve already started on our permitting process for our permanent structures with the county. That is already in the works,” market owner and operator Keith Dela Cruz said Tuesday. Dela Cruz said he’s working with Koa Architects, a Big Island firm with Hilo and Waimea offices.

According to an email from Barett Otani, spokesman for the county’s Public Works Department, a permit application for permanent plans has not been submitted. He said the market has been fined $88,000 as of May 21, the last date for which a “solid figure” has been tabulated.

“All the days that nothing was erected, they were in compliance. When the canopy, the fire-retardant one they got the approval for went up, they were in compliance,” Otani said. “But one day after that, somebody put something else up and they’re not in compliance. So it’s hard to nail down days when they are in compliance and when they aren’t. So some days fines are being accrued and other days not. It changes day to day.”

According to Otani, Dela Cruz has paid $4,000 in fines. He added that inspectors are still monitoring the market for compliance “on a daily basis.”

Pop-up tents Dela Cruz required merchants to supply, erect and dismantle daily are still evident on the arts-and-crafts side of the market, across Mamo Street from the produce vendors. Otani said in April those tents “do not comply with code.”

The market closed for a day on March 25 to remove the original tarp and some wiring the county said didn’t meet fire codes. It was then that the 10-by-10-foot pop-up tents appeared, giving the market what one vendor described as “the appearance of a favela” — the Brazilian term for a shanty town.

Dela Cruz said he’s awaiting another shipment of fire-retardant tarp-tents for the crafts market.

“We’re hoping to get our other shipment sometime next week. And we hope to have the rest of the market done … sometime early next week.”

Takemoto said in March the county has been working with Dela Cruz to try to get the market in compliance with SMA permit requirements. The SMA permit is needed because of the market’s proximity to the shoreline and its location in a tsunami inundation and flood hazard zone.

“We’re trying to work with him as best we can but he, all this time, was noncompliant,” Otani said. “As far as the (fines) go, they’re being negotiated with Corporation Counsel’s office.”

“We’re working with them on that; we can’t go into details on that,” Dela Cruz acknowledged Tuesday. “We’ve had several meetings, and they’re all pretty positive. We’re moving forward.”

The original permanent structure plans submitted by Dela Cruz, with an estimated price tag of about $5 million, were scrapped, despite an SMA permit issued by the Planning Commission, because of the economic downturn during the Great Recession. Dela Cruz’s second set of plans, submitted in 2015, called for a 20-foot-high prefab structure with a cost of about $1 million.

Dela Cruz thanked customers, vendors and the community “for their continued patience.”

County Councilman Aaron Chung, who represents downtown Hilo, sponsored a bill, since approved by the council, allowing the county to set up a farmers market in Mooheau Park, across the street.

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“Basically, this was just a fall-back position for the county and for our community,” Chung said Tuesday. “It may never be used as a farmers market, and I’m hoping that it never will be used. I think Mr. Dela Cruz and Roy Takemoto have done a good job of working together, and it appears to me that progress is being made.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.