Gas station makes way for apartments


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

A downtown Hilo gas station has been dismantled to make room for the property owner’s plans for a new apartment building.

Vincent Tai, who owns the land at the corner of Keawe and Haili streets, said he wants to a build a residential and commercial building about four or five stories tall but is waiting to see if the right zoning changes are made.

That would include an amendment to the County Code allowing onsite parking and residential density to be increased from a limit of 1,000 square feet of land per unit to 500 square feet.

The Windward Planning Commission voted in favor of the amendment last Thursday but it still requires approval from the County Council.

Tai, a Honolulu architect, said the Union 76 gas station’s lease for the land expires at the end of next month.

He chose not to renew it in hopes of being able to build the new complex.

Tai said such a building would help “bring residents back to the city center” but he hasn’t committed to any details of how it will look, assuming the zoning changes are made.

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.

Tai said he expects those plans to change and couldn’t comment on specifics.

“I don’t know at this time,” he said.

“I’m looking into alternatives.

“I don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy until I know all the amendments.”

Senior and affordable housing remain possibilities, Tai said.

The Hilo Downtown Improvement Association is supporting the proposed zoning changes.

HDIA President Jeff Melrose told the Tribune-Herald last month that it will remove barriers for downtown housing and bring more people to Hilo’s commercial core.

Currently, most downtown housing is limited to a few apartments above storefronts, he said.

Onsite parking, a necessity for an apartment building, has been limited downtown to prevent buildings from being setback away from the streets, former county Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd said last month.

Tai said he didn’t know when clean-up work, including environmental action, will be finished at the site, noting the work is being coordinated by Mid-Pac Petroleum, which holds the lease.

The company couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Tai said he hasn’t decided whether he will leave the property fenced afterward or keep it open for parking.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-hearld.com.

 

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