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Hawaii Senate advances bill to create development authority

By Derrick DePlede

LAST UPDATED: 11:47 a.m. HST, Mar 1, 2013

State senators advanced a bill today that would create a Public-Private Partnership Authority that would promote development projects, but were cautious about giving the new authority any powers that resemble the beleaguered Public Land Development Corp.

The new authority would collaborate with state agencies and private-sector developers on projects that could generate revenue for the state. The authority would not have exemptions from state land use regulations -- like the PLDC -- but counties, by ordinance or memorandum of agreement, could waive zoning, land use, and permitting requirements on any project prior to construction.

To test the concept, the new authority would work on three pilot projects: a film production studio on Maui; a main street redevelopment project in Wahiawa; and a project initiated by one of the counties.

As an additional precaution, senators agreed to establish the new authority for only five years, through June 2018.

While several state agencies have development authority, “there is a big vacuum in public-private partnership, there is nothing that focusses across-the-board in helping agencies do it,” said Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Wheeler-Wahiawa-Schofield), the chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Government Operations and Housing Committee, who is behind the new authority and the PLDC.

A few senators said they are concerned that the new authority is too similar to the PLDC, which they plan to repeal.

Senate Vice President Ronald Kouchi (D, Kauai-Niihau) said the legislation took into account the tremendous amount of testimony lawmakers received critical of the PLDC. He said it was the counties who asked for the potential waiver from county land use regulations, which would be subject to public review at the county level.

“This has been trying to take into account all of the testimony that we have received in the past year on the PLDC, and how do we work towards meeting the expectations and desires of the community while still trying to reach some of the economic development goals that we have set as the Legislature?” Kouchi said.

Sen. Gilbert Kahele (D, Hilo) said the legislation addresses the concerns raised about the PLDC. “Action speaks louder than words,” he said, adding that if the pilot projects are successful, “I think the public will be more trusting.”

Senate Bill 215 was approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Education Committee Friday and now goes to the full Senate.

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