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Downtown housing could increase


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Hawaii County Council passed a bill Thursday expected to help increase housing in downtown Hilo.

The bill allows apartment buildings with a unit density higher than 1,000 square feet per unit to get away with fewer parking spaces.

The idea is to reduce the amount of space developers need to dedicate to parking, allowing for more efficient use of the land.

Rather than requiring 1.25 parking spaces per unit, qualifying residential buildings will only need to offer 1 space per unit.

The change could allow a new apartment building to be built at the corner of Keawe and Haili streets.

Property owner Vincent Tai told the Tribune-Herald in June he needed the rules regarding parking to be changed to make such a development work.

The property was recently the location of a Union 76 gas station.

It was torn down after the gas station’s lease ended.

Tai, who couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, said in June he didn’t renew the lease to make way for the development.

He didn’t comment on the details of his plan then.

In 2009, he submitted a plan to the county Planning Department proposing a five-story building with 10,000 square feet of commercial space and 44 residential units.

At the meeting Thursday, three testifiers spoke in favor of the bill, which requires Mayor Billy Kenoi’s signature.

“I remember downtown Hilo being a vibrant area. … This is the type of bill that will bring rejuvenation to the downtown area,” said Vern Yamanaka.

Jeff Melrose, Hilo Downtown Improvement Association president, said the bill will increase economic investment.

“With increased residential use, we can start to build downtown in new and useful ways with the character we all know and love,” he said.

The downtown area consists of the area bordered by Wailuku River and Kinoole and Ponahawai streets.

Staff Writer Nancy Cook Lauer contributed to this report.


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