HILO — Documents obtained this week by the Tribune-Herald detail a long history of permit application changes, extension requests, and alleged noncompliance with county zoning, building and fire codes by the Hilo Farmers Market.
The market, located in the Downtown Hilo Commercial District, closed for a day on March 25 to comply with a county order to remove tents, tarps and outdoor electrical wiring the county said were noncompliant and a safety hazard to customers and merchants.
The market’s owner and manager, Keith De La Cruz, informed vendors of the closure the previous day, ordering them to obtain their own 10-foot-by-10-foot pop-up tents to continue operating.
The first notice by the county to De La Cruz, informing he was going to be fined if he remained in noncompliance with county codes, was sent by certified mail on March 12 by the Department of Public Works Building Division. Three more letters were sent on March 14.
The letters, one for each property occupied by the open-air market, informed De La Cruz he would be fined $1,000 per parcel, a total of $4,000, within five business days of receiving the order, and a fine of $1,000 per lot for each day thereafter the violations persist.
Each letter was signed by David Yamamoto, the Building Division chief.
The letters, which were virtually identical, noted De La Cruz was informed of violations of county building and zoning codes on June 1, 2017, and was told then to take corrective action.
In addition, county Planning Director Michael Yee sent De La Cruz a letter dated March 16 stating “the deadline to complete construction of (a) 3-story commercial building” on the main farmers market parcel at the corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street adjacent to Reuben’s Mexican Food in downtown Hilo was March 17.
“It has been represented that you want to build a much more scaled down structure on the property,” Yee’s letter said. “Based on this, please submit a letter requesting revocation of” the special management area use permit that was granted to De La Cruz for the three-story structure on March 17, 2008.
De La Cruz also was asked to “provide plans and associated narrative for the proposed temporary structure(s), uses and activities, as well as the proposed downsized single-story open pavilion permanent structure.”
The permit, which required construction within five years, was extended another five years by the county at De La Cruz’s request in March 2013. De La Cruz requested on June 20, 2017, to amend the permit — which allows the sale of produce on Wednesday, Saturday and limited hours on Sunday — to allow the sale of “produce and personal products” seven days a week between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The county now considers the permit to be expired since no construction has taken place.
That parcel, according to a SMA permit application filed by De La Cruz on June 20, 2017, is owned by Hilo Farmers Market LLC. The state Department of Commerce and Consumer affairs website lists De La Cruz as the only member of that entity.
De La Cruz said Thursday he’s still hoping to construct a scaled-down building. He didn’t have a cost estimate, but said he’s “trying to keep it under half-a-million” dollars.
For the other three parcels, which are on the opposite side of Mamo Street from the main produce area, Yee asked De La Cruz to provide similar plans and narratives “for the proposed temporary structure(s) … as well as the proposed permanent structure(s) and parking/overnight storage areas.”
Those parcels, according to the SMA permit applications filed on June 20, 2017, are owned by Yasumi Iida of Narashino, Japan.
Yee also asked De La Cruz to add the proposed removal of a banyan tree next to the farmers market restaurant area to the permit applications.
The permits are required because of the market’s proximity to the shoreline and its location in a tsunami inundation and flood hazard zone.
De La Cruz said the current situation is causing him “undue stress and frustration.”
“I’d like to try to get this resolved as soon as possible so the market, our vendors and the customers can move forward,” he said. “We want to get the permits done as soon as we can. We had submitted it back in June. It’s already created an inconvenience, and I think a solution would be to try to get our metal building up for the farmers market as soon as possible, as well as addressing the SMAs for the crafts site.”
Mayor Harry Kim issued a lengthy written statement late Thursday night referring to information circulating about the one-day closure of the iconic open-air market as “so wrong and misleading” as to prompt a rebuttal.
“The public should know of truth that their government has sincerely tried to help Mr. De La Cruz comply with the county, state and federal laws to keep the market in operation,” Kim wrote. “A commitment was made and kept by the county to help keep it open and develop a place to be proud of. The choices made that caused this closure and hardships imposed on the tenants were not made by your government.”
Kim’s statement listed areas in which the farmers market was allegedly noncompliant as:
• No building permits. The farmers market has been operating for over 20 years without any building permits. Temporary structures, such as large tents greater than 120 square feet used for commercial purposes, are required to have a temporary building permit, which is good for 180 days only.
• Nonflammable tent material. Tents larger than 750 square feet are required to have nonflammable or noncombustible tent material.
• Nonpermitted electrical wiring. Electrical wiring was energized, used and operated without required electrical inspections and approval of electrical work performed.
• Extended hours of operation. Farmers market operations exceeded the two days a week allowed by the SMA permit.
• Nonpermitted sign. A large sign was installed without acquiring the required permits.
• No setbacks between tents and property boundary. Temporary structures are required to have a 10-foot setback from the property boundaries and 10-foot spacing between tents.
“The conditions were allowed to persist for all these years in deference to constantly changing plans proposed by the owner,” according to Kim. “Continuous efforts over the past year by the county to guide the owner into compliance were, regretfully, unsuccessful due to delay or no action on the owner’s part. The only way to finally achieve results was to enforce the notice of violation that the owner received in June of 2017 which clearly stated the consequences if the proper permits were not acquired in a timely fashion.
“… The county is committed to assisting the owner in developing a permanent farmers market that can be a fixture of the Hilo landscape, provide a safe environment for the community to shop, and help make Hilo a beautiful and nice place to live.”
Kim’s entire statement, unedited, is on our website at hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Email John Burnett@hawaiiitribune-herald.com.
Partial chronology of Hilo Farmers Market permit applications, approvals and alleged violations:
• June 20, 1990: Special management area permit issued to Hilo Farmers Market founder Richard “Mike” Rankin for installation of electrical service/meter system.
• Aug. 3, 1994: Special management area permit issued to Rankin for expansion of market and temporary awnings.
• Aug. 4, 1994: Special management area permit issued to Spencer Oliver for grading of property to establish a parking lot.
• March 17, 2008: Special management area permit issued to Keith De La Cruz for a three-story commercial building. That five-year permit was extended another five years in 2013 at De La Cruz’s request, with a deadline of March 18, 2018.
• June 1, 2017: Department of Public Works Building Division sent notice of violation on 10-foot setback and fire-resistant tent material requirements with a compliance deadline of June 30, 2017.
• June 20, 2017: Letter by De La Cruz to Planning Department asks for amendment to special management area permit to allow sale of produce and personal products seven days a week, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• June 22, 2017: Planning Department sent notice of violation for sale of “personal property” items for more than two days a week
• June 28, 2017: Hilo Farmers Market submits temporary structure permit application and request for waivers of 10-foot setback and fire-resistant tent material requirements and request for 60-day extension to compliance deadline of June 30, 2017.
• July 10, 2017: Department of Public Works Building Division sends letter denying setback and fire-resistant tent material waivers but granted a compliance deadline extension of Aug. 31, 2017. That deadline was extended again on Sept. 8 to Oct. 8, 2017. A third extension was granted on Nov. 6 to make the compliance deadline Dec. 31, 2017.
• March 12, 2018: Department of Public Works Building Division sent a letter to De La Cruz for one of four parcel occupied by the farmers market alleging continued noncompliance with code requirements regarding tarps, tents and wiring, and ordering him to pay a fine of $1,000 for that parcel within five business days of receipt and a fine of $1,000 “for each day in which the violation persists.” Similar letters for the other three parcels were dated March 14. The orders can be appealed to the county Board of Appeals, but fines must be paid while violations persist during appeals process.
• March 24, 2018: De La Cruz sends notice to farmers market vendors notifying them of order to remove tarps and tents, instructing them to “remove all produce boxes and personal items such as poles, hangars or tarps” by the end of the day. The notice said the market will be closed March 25. Vendors are instructed to purchase their own 10-foot-by-10-foot pop-up tents, “straight legged, white color tarp recommended.” The pop-up tents are to be removed at the end of each business day. De La Cruz told vendors he has “been working in good faith to resolve notices of violations received from the county since June 2017.”
• March 25, 2018: Hilo Farmers Market closed for day for removal of tarps and tents on the produce side of the market.
• March 26, 2018: Market reopened with several produce vendors supplying their own pop-up tents, mostly with white canopies. Tarp poles on the crafts side of market were in process of being dismantled.