Planning Commission Considers New Guidelines for Downtown Hilo

Media Release:

The Windward Planning Commission is about to consider a package of zoning code changes that evolved from the community’s vision for Downtown Hilo. Planners have spent nearly six years in consultation with residents, business owners and others, and this package is one product of those meetings designed to guide future development of the historic Downtown area.

The proposed changes are an effort to preserve the old town ambiance of Downtown Hilo with its views of Hilo Bay, while positioning the area for redevelopment that respects and compliments Hilo’s historic roots. The plan will help preserve the feel of the most pedestrian-friendly neighborhood on the island, while encouraging property owners to incorporate landscaping, lighting and other improvements into their projects to make downtown more safe and attractive.

“These changes have been carefully thought out by people who live, work and visit downtown, and they will serve as a guide to make this special area even more inviting and unique,” said County of Hawai‘i Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd. “We want to encourage investment in Downtown Hilo while preserving the special character of the area, and this plan accomplishes that.”

In keeping with the effort to encourage a pedestrian-friendly environment and to preserve the existing scale of development, the proposed changes would reduce the existing 120-foot height limit. The new height limits would be 60 feet for makai areas below Kino’ole Street, and 80 feet for areas set further back from Hilo Bay. By comparison, the Bayshore Towers complex near the shoreline is 145.13 feet tall, and the tallest building in the central downtown area today is the 62-foot Hawaiian Telephone Company Hilo Building.

At the same time, the allowable low-rise development density would be increased by about 35 percent to allow for an additional 15 units per acre throughout the Downtown Hilo area…

The proposed changes would also revise the lists of permitted uses in the Downtown district to advance the goal of a pedestrian-friendly environment. For example, the new guidelines would eliminate car washes, automobile repair shops and service stations from the list of permitted uses, but would add churches, community gardens and hostels to the list of approved uses.

Other changes would create a “commercial core” that includes the areas makai of Kino’ole Street from Ponahawai Street to the Wailuku River. In that area, new buildings would generally be built to the lot lines so the structures are bordered by a sidewalk, and overhead canopies would be required to shelter pedestrians from the rain. Those design features are in keeping with the existing storefront character of much of Downtown.

The proposed changes would also require additional lighting under sidewalk canopies and along storefronts in the commercial core to improve visibility and pedestrian security. For property owners who develop new parking areas Downtown, the proposed changes would also add new landscaping and lighting requirements for the parking lots.

The proposed zoning code changes are being submitted to the Windward Planning Commission, which will consider the proposals on March 5. After the Planning Commission completes its review, the changes will be forwarded to the County Council.

Contact Person:        Susan Gagorik, 961-8133

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