Turns out you can fight City Hall after all.
Turns out you can fight City Hall after all.
That’s the experience of Arlene Kimata, a petite middle-aged Hilo woman who single-handedly waged a successful campaign against the operation of an industrial baseyard in her residential neighborhood.
Kimata, who’d never previously attended a County Council meeting, gathered her evidence and protested to the council after her complaints to the Windward Planning Commission fell on deaf ears.
Almost a year later, Kimata’s complaints have been heard. At a stormy County Council meeting Friday, the applicant withdrew his after-the-fact rezoning request when it became clear there weren’t enough votes to pass it.
“I am shocked. I’m just glad this issue got the proper airing,” Kimata said afterward. “If I had not come forward, this result probably would not have happened and this would have been rubber-stamped.”
At issue was a 40-by-180-foot steel-framed warehouse built and permitted as a single-family home in a neighborhood zoned residential off Hinano Street in Hilo. The building housed two massive pumping trucks owned by Kamaaina Pumping, a county contracting operation co-owned by county Automotive Division Chief Randy Riley.
The plans for the building called for 5,996 square feet of garage space and five 20-foot-high rolling bay doors. The remaining 1,218 square feet was supposed to be devoted to living space, according to the plans approved by the Department of Public Works. But the residential space was never built, said county inspectors who visited and photographed the facility after Kimata complained.
A building permit was issued in 2012, and the structure has been in use as a baseyard since December 2013, according to the county. After Kimata’s complaints, Riley and his partner, doing business as LK &RR Enterprises LLC, applied in April for an after-the-fact zoning change from residential to commercial. Kimata was the only neighbor who was not mailed a notice of the rezoning application.
The rezoning was the issue before the County Council on Friday, following its approval by the Windward Planning Commission in July.
Several members of the public sided with Kimata.
“The applicants, one of them a county division chief, lied to the county when they applied for and received a permit to build a residence in the area to be rezoned and then built a commercial building instead,” said Cheryl King, testifying from Kona. “This company should not be rewarded for its deceit and the rezoning should be denied.”
“Please … have the applicant and the county staff explain publicly how a single-family home morphed into a warehouse for a sewage business with a politically connected owner,” said Cory Harden.
The council Planning Committee last month forwarded the matter to the council with a positive recommendation. At the time, though, the committee warned the county Public Works Department and Planning Department, the applicant and the planning consultant, Sidney Fuke, that it wanted to see steps taken to penalize the applicant for, as Fuke called it, “jumping the gun.”
Riley’s company was fined $500 and ordered to remove the trucks from the premises.
Even if the rezoning from residential to commercial went through, it would not have allowed the baseyard or the trucks unless it was zoned industrial, said Planning Director Duane Kanuha. He said he couldn’t see commercial uses such as offices or retail stores “without some major retrofits.”
“We didn’t approve a warehouse. We approved a residential structure, and there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that this has been constructed,” Kanuha said.
Several council members were clear in their lack of support.
“I always look at what is fair and what is just,” said Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter. “I cannot compromise on these values that I have and I cannot set a precedent.”
Poindexter recounted how a sod farm that was permitted in her district some years ago turned into a multimillion-dollar home with a helicopter pad.
“I believe if we approve this, it’s a real slap in the face to those who follow the rules,” said Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille. “It’s a matter of trust and people worrying that it’s an insider … getting away with something.”
But Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi said there are many unpermitted structures throughout the county, especially in the Puna district that was recently hit by Tropical Storm Iselle. If the county is to set a precedent, it should tell the Planning Department and the Building Division to go out and cite all the unpermitted structures, he said.
“We all know Mr. Fuke — we trust him,” Onishi said. “I don’t think he tries to cheat us.”
Riley told the council Friday that he’s the victim in all this. He said he had no idea what was being constructed until he saw it on the ground. He’s since fired his architect, he added.
“I take offense to what you said,” Riley responded, pointing at Wille. “We had an architect, a contractor. We trusted them. We were misled by them. … We didn’t know we were in any violation for parking our trucks there. … We were never informed by the county that we were doing anything wrong. … We did follow the rules … I’m being victimized by following the system.”
General contractor James Ishii told West Hawaii Today on Friday that his company bid on the plans and then built from the plans.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Ishii said, when told Riley said his company misled him.
A phone message left with the architect, Advance Architects of Keaau, was not returned by press time Friday.
Fuke said the trucks have been moved, and his client intends to hold the property for a possible rezoning later. The neighborhood is in transition, he noted, with residential property turning over to commercial uses. A commercial rezoning would allow offices and storefronts there, but not a baseyard for the trucks.
“Six months, two years, eight years,” Fuke said, “We’ll look at assessing the different options.”