Audit sought for subdivision, zoning statutes

HILO — A Hawaii County Council committee voted in support of an audit that would be the first step in rewriting two chapters of the county code.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Planning Committee, council members heard a resolution introduced by Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz that urges the county to spend $125,000 to audit Chapters 23 and 25 of the county code.

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The county code chapters in question relate to the county’s statutes on subdivisions and zoning, respectively, which Kierkiewicz argued are outdated and in need of rewrites.

“I think the last time these were reworked was in 1996,” Kierkiewicz said. “I think I was 10 years old when that happened.”

County Planning Director Michael Yee said that continual amendments to the county’s zoning and subdivision statutes have left those chapters an often contradictory tangle of confusing rules, which makes further amendments necessary and harder to implement.

The resolution itself argues that “the ability of the Planning Department to successfully administer the Subdivision Control Code and Zoning Code has been severely compromised by scores of piecemeal amendments, which currently present issues of obsoletion, redundancy and conflict, thereby leading to inconsistent interpretations, excessive rule-making and increased appeals of Planning Director decisions.”

As an example, Yee said that, based on the county’s zoning laws, it should be impossible for an ohana dwelling to be used as a vacation rental, but they are nonetheless frequently offered as such.

Working around the statutes’ arcane contradictions and restrictions has required an increasing amount of what Yee called “code yoga,” which makes approving any new development a daunting task.

“An update has been on my wish list ever since I started here,” Yee said.

Acting Deputy Planning Director April Surprenant said an audit would only be the first step in a process that could take four years before any rewrites can be made. If approved, an audit would allow the county to understand what in the code needs to be revised.

Yee said the entire rewriting process would cost more than $1 million, but added that the audit is being proposed separately from the rest of the process to break up the cost.

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The resolution recommends that the county set aside $125,000 in the next budget cycle for the audit.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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