At its last meeting of 2018, the Honolulu City Council failed to override Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s veto of a bill easing condo fire safety rules, but gave the final green light for Waikiki’s first, large-scale rental complex in decades and moved forward with proposals regulating vacation rentals and “monster” houses.
The meeting also was the last to be led by Council Chairman Ernie Martin whose second four-year term ends on Jan. 2. Martin has been chairman for more than six years, the longest leadership tenure at Honolulu Hale since at least statehood.
Martin’s colleagues failed to deliver him a final victory over Caldwell. There were not enough votes to override Bill 72, which would have extended the deadline for owners and associations of older high-rises to meet the new fire safety standards outlined in Bill 69 (2017), which passed earlier this year.
The vote was 5-3 to override, one short of the six votes needed. Councilmen Brandon Elefante, Joey Manahan and Ron Menor declined it. Councilman Ikaika Anderson was excused from the meeting.
Bill 69 (2017) requires high-rises without sprinklers to install them, or to opt to conduct comprehensive life safety evaluations and then make any improvements identified.
Menor introduced Bill 69 (2017) in response to the July 2017 Marco Polo fire that killed four and damaged scores of units, a tragedy that fire officials said could have been mitigated if the building had had sprinklers. The Marco Polo had been built before high-rises were required to install sprinklers. Menor’s bill gives condo owners and associations three years to conduct a building fire and safety evaluation and six years to comply with the evaluation’s findings. The original draft of the bill would have required sprinklers in all the high-rise condos now without them.
Bill 72 would have added two years more to those deadlines.
Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga said she introduced Bill 72 because condo owners and association representatives said it didn’t give them enough time to meet the requirements and that requirements were unclear.
Caldwell vetoed Bill 72.
Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves on Wednesday urged Council members to not override the veto, arguing that longer deadlines would delay a measure that would protect firefighters and the public.
“Sprinklers buy time, and what time buys is life,” Neves said, flanked by firefighters holding signs showing news headlines from around the world about the Marco Polo fire.
Neves said the fire department would help owners and associations meet the deadlines and that safety evaluations can be done for as little as $30 to $50 per unit. He also said there were enough qualified companies to conduct the evaluations to prevent delays.
All-rental tower OK’d
The Council passed Resolution 18-236, giving developer OliverMcMillan the go-ahead to build Waikiki’s first newly constructed all-rental tower in about 40 years.
Plans call for a 402-unit tower called Lilia Waikiki between Walina and Kanekapolei streets on Kuhio Avenue, currently the site of low-rise commercial buildings and associated parking. The site includes the Food Pantry, Waikiki’s only supermarket.
The developer also wants to renovate four existing low-rise apartment complexes across from Lilia Waikiki. The four buildings would add 53 additional rentals. A 25,000-square-foot supermarket on the second floor of the tower would replace the 20,000- square-foot Food Pantry, and other commercial space would be offered on the ground floor.
The Council’s approval of the resolution gives the development, designated a planned development apartment project, the ability to exceed the 260-foot height limit for the site by 25 feet and to make the tower 37 percent denser. The tower also would encroach slightly on transitional setbacks.
The developer is agreeing to offer up 20 percent of the project’s 455 units, or 91 apartments, for residents earning no more than 80 percent of area medium income and to maintain those affordable rents for 30 years.
The tower will have a mix of studios and one-, two- and three- bedroom units.
OliverMcMillan has a 65-year lease with landowner Queen Emma Land Co.
Also on Wednesday, the Council gave first-reading approval to seven bills that would allow the city to issue permits for up to 4,000 short-term vacation rentals — both bed-and-breakfast establishments and transient vacation units — while imposing tough laws their operation and stiffer fines for their violations.
The city stopped issuing certificates for vacation rentals in 1989. The city Department of Planning and Permitting estimates there are only 816 legal units outside of resort zones but between 6,000 and 8,000 illegal units on Oahu.
Bill 89 is Caldwell’s omnibus proposal that would allow permits to be issued for possibly up to 4,000 B&Bs and TVUs, islandwide by capping the number at no more than 1 percent of all dwelling units in each of the island’s eight development plan districts.
Caldwell’s plan also would establish new property tax classifications for legal vacation units rather than allow them to stay in the residential class. That makes it likely the vacation units would pay at higher rates closer to resort properties.
On Wednesday, supporters of vacation rentals generally spoke against capping the number of permitted units and establishing new tax classifications.
Among the other related measures that received first reading approval were Bill 85, allowing a neighbor to bring a civil action against a violator of vacation rental rules; Bill 90, requiring the seller of a residential property to disclose whether a B&B or TVU can be operated out of the property, and if one operated out of there previously; and Bill 91 making it a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,000 or a maximum of 80 hours of community service, to lie to a DPP inspector or other city official during an investigation.
The measures now all go back to the Zoning and Housing Committee for more work.
The Council gave second reading approval to Bill 79, which places limitations on residential structures built to combat the proliferation of large-scale houses.
Leaders from the building industry continued to oppose objections to the bill, arguing that the measure goes too far and could restrict people who want to build a house large enough to accommodate several generations of family members.
Opponents of large-scale houses testified that they want tougher restrictions than what’s in the bill.
The bill now goes back to the Zoning and Housing Committee.
Homeless plan passes
The Council passed Resolution 18-280 , accepting Caldwell’s action plan on homelessness. This clears the way for the bans on lodging in public places and sidewalk obstruction to kick in despite concerns from the administration about language that restricts transporting an individual from one Council district to a shelter or program in another district.
The American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii chapter may challenge the legality of the no- lodging and sidewalk obstruction laws.