County wants to seize, sell site of former homeless camp

  • The site of the former homeless camp is now an empty gravel lot and a makeshift sign. (Mike Brestovansky/Tribune-Herald)

The former site of a homeless camp in downtown Hilo may be sold off to pay for fines the owners owe the county.

In a motion filed in Circuit Court earlier this month, representatives of Hawaii County requested a court order that would allow the county to seize and sell a lot on Punahoa Street, between Ponahawai and Mamo streets in downtown Hilo.

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For nearly a year, an unpermitted homeless camp was located on that lot, in defiance of county orders, until the camp was torn down by county workers in November.

Since the beginning of 2019, the owners of the lot — Big Island residents Elizabeth Jeri Rose and Michael Ravenswing — accumulated thousands of dollars in fines for failing to remove the unpermitted structures.

According to the motion, Rose and Ravenswing now owe $177,000 in fines to the county, although Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said they could owe more, because the owners are also responsible for the cost of clearing the site.

Records from the county’s Real Property Tax Division assess the value of the lot at $136,900. Kamelamela said Rose and Ravenswing will still be responsible for the difference between the lot’s value and the amount they owe.

The records indicate the property was last sold in 2018 for $135,000.

Kamelamela said Rose and Ravenswing have consistently failed to appear at any previous hearing, and often failed to respond to any mailings as well. Because of this, no payment schedule for repaying the $177,000 has been determined, he said.

A hearing will take place on March 4 to determine whether the county will seize the property. If such an order is made, Kamelamela said the lot could go to auction and be sold within six months.

“It depends on who wants the property, really,” Kamelamela said.

The site, an approximately 7,300 square foot lot located directly next to the Hilo Farmers Market and close to Hilo Bay, might be a desirable property for developers. Presently, the lot is empty save for rough gravel and a makeshift sign advising “no parking.”

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Rose did not respond to a request for comment.

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

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