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A bill aimed at speeding up historic preservation reviews cleared its first committee Tuesday.
House Bill 202 would require the Department of Land and Natural Resources State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) to contract its review of proposed state projects affecting historic properties to third-party consultants if the department will not be able to complete the review within 60 days.
The reviews, required by state law, play an essential role in the protection and management of the state’s historic places, burial sites and aviation artifacts, according to the measure. However, they are also leading to significant delays in obtaining permits because of the division’s “inability to process the overwhelming volume of submittals for review.”
“Consequently, much-needed housing, economic development, and critical infrastructure projects often face significant delays in permit approvals and project implementation,” House Bill 202 states.
To “promote more timely reviews of projects,” the bill proposes requiring SHPD — subject to approval by the appropriate island burial council — to contract its review of proposed state projects, projects on privately owned historic property, and projects affecting historic properties to third-party consultants if it can’t complete the review within 60 days.
Further, a third party contracted to complete the review would have to complete the process within 30 days.
Introduced by Oahu Reps. Linda Ichiyama and Micah Aiu and Maui Rep. Troy Hashimoto, all Democrats, Bill 202 passed its first reading on the House floor on Jan. 19 and was assigned for hearings before the committees on Water and Land, Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, and Finance.
On Tuesday, the Committee on Water and Land took up the measure, hearing testimony submitted by five entities. All but one offered input supportive of the proposed legislation.
The General Contractors Association of Hawaii, NAIOP (Commercial Real Estate Development Association Hawaii Chapter), Associated Builders and Contractors Hawaii Chapter, and the Building Industry Association of Hawaii each urged the committee to pass the measure, noting the need to address the backlog of reviews.
“Currently, the backlog of historic reviews is encumbering permits throughout the state. Consequently, much needed housing, economic development, and critical infrastructure projects often face significant delays in permit approvals and project implementation,” Jennifer Camp, NAIOP president. “NAIOP understands the great importance that these reviews hold in preservation of Hawaii’s historic and cultural sites, however, a balance needs to be found to increase efficiency while maintaining the quality of reviews.”
Camp requested the committee consider amending the bill to remove the need for the burial council’s approval of the third-party consultant — calling it “duplicative” — and to require SHPD retain a third-party consultant no later than 60 days after an application is submitted.
Nonprofit Honolulu-based Historic Hawaii Foundation recommended the bill be deferred due to ambiguities of the policy and proposed direction, and the “availability of simpler and more direct solutions.”
“Rather than introduce an entirely new bureaucracy to the process, Historic Hawaii Foundation recommends that SHPD be provided with the resources for personnel, technology, equipment and training to do the job for which it has been entrusted. If the Division is fully staffed and supported, the issues of timeliness and quality of reviews would be addressed at the source, and the proposed work-around is moot,” Kiersten Faulkner, executive director, wrote in late testimony.
The Committee on Water and Land ultimately moved to continue the discussion on the bill, voting 8-0 to pass it with amendments. Amendments added Tuesday include a “blank appropriation” that would allow SHPD to hire staff, a new effective date and a change to the bill’s wordage to give SHPD discretion.
“I’m also going to change throughout the bill from the language that would mandate SHPD to hire a third party to “may,” so that it’s permissive and they will have the ability, the discretion to decide on that third party review,” said Ichiyama, one of the bill’s introducers and chairperson of the House Committee on Water and Land.
The bill’s next stop is House floor for a reading and vote before it can be scheduled for a hearing before the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs.
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