Extension frustration: Bill seeks to curb automatic rezoning time extensions
A bill proposed by North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba aims to address a common complaint among West Hawaii residents that developers’ rezoning applications, once approved, get numerous time extensions without regard to how conditions and infrastructure may have changed in the intervening five, 10 or even 25 years.
Bill 194, to be heard at 10 a.m. Tuesday by the County Council Planning Committee, would clarify that the County Council must approve extensions requested once the time in the original council-approved rezoning ordinance has run out.
The bill changes the zoning ordinance to include specific language prohibiting administrative extensions: “Unless specifically authorized by the council, extensions of time to satisfy conditions may not be allowed by the director.”
And, it clarifies that if the applicant fails to fulfill any conditions of the zone change within the specified time limitations, the planning director or council may initiate the process for enactment of an ordinance reverting the affected property back to its original zoning designation or a more appropriate zoning designation.
“If it takes a whole council to approve a rezoning, it shouldn’t be left to the planning director to extend it without any proof or evidence to the council,” Inaba said. “Having it come to the council increases responsibility and accountability for both the developer and the county.”
He points a clause often included in the original zoning ordinances allowing the planning director that discretion. But often, he said, the council is not informed that an extension has occurred or for how long.
Planning Director Zendo Kern said the clarifications to the bill pretty much detail what’s already being done.
“Bill 194 reflects past and current practices with the Council and Planning Director,” Kern said. “I look forward to discussion at the Planning Committee.”
The lengthy extensions have been sticking points with residents and members of the Leeward Planning Commission.
Planning Commission Chairman Mike Vitousek at one point asked a developer if they actually planned on building the project or were they just “entitlement banking.”
Former Leeward Planning Commissioner Mark Van Pernis, in a Dec. 10 op-ed to West Hawaii Today, asked for more oversight.
“In my experience, delays of five to 25 years are common. There appears to be no authority in applicable rules and statutes for such procedure,” Van Pernis said. “Shouldn’t the County Council, which gave the applicant-developer a huge financial boost with an ordinance for rezoning and subdivision for development within a specific (time), exclusively have the power to decide on lengthy delays, and to require more infrastructure if necessary?”
Van Pernis’ sentiments were echoed by Kailua-Kona resident Elizabeth Dunn during a recent rezoning extension application before the Leeward Planning Commission.
“I bristle with the fact that something that originally got approved in 2009 is now being reconsidered again for an extension. It seems to me that there should be a life term to planning approvals and not this sort of permanent perpetual approval for projects,” Dunn said.