Mayor Blangiardi to move forward with historic preservation panel

Nov. 24—Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced his intent to staff the Oahu Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday, three decades after the City Council created it without filling its ranks.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced his intent to staff the Oahu Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday, three decades after the City Council created it without filling its ranks.

The Council voted Nov. 3 to activate the commission, which is tasked with ensuring development projects do not destroy historical and cultural sites, including heiau and iwi kupuna. The commission could hold its first meeting as soon as March, said Council member Esther Kiaaina, who joined Blangiardi and other officials at a news conference held at the city's Mission Memorial Building.

Activating the commission would make Honolulu, the state's only county without a working commission of this kind, eligible for federal funding to preserve and protect historic sites, Blangiardi said. "As a major U.S. destination, Honolulu, we've been passing on the benefit of having federal monies to work with, " he said. "This opens up a lot of possibilities."

The city's Department of Planning and Permitting would house the new commission consisting of nine unpaid appointees nominated by the mayor and approved by the Council. The yearly cost to run the panel would likely be less than $300, 000 to pay salaries for an administrator and clerical staff, Dawn Takeuchi Apuna, DPP acting director, said at the news conference.

The commission was established to streamline coordination among government, developers and people seeking to preserve historic and cultural sites.

"There's been litigation where there's not been a necessity for such litigation, " said Kehaunani Abad, a supporter of preserving iwi kupuna, burial sites and other historic sites, at the news conference. The development of Ward Villages and the Walmart in the Ala Moana area were stalled after burials were found there, Abad said. "And it was because there wasn't a lot of integration between the expertise in the community that would be represented now on the Oahu Historic Preservation Commission, " she said.

"Having this commission in place saves time and money for planners, landowners, developers, " said Mahealani Cypher, a cultural consultant with the Koolau Foundation, a cultural heritage preservation program. "The time save is you identify early on what important sites may exist on the property. And if you identify it early, you can incorporate that into your planning for your project, whatever development you have, and then you avoid blockages farther down the line."

"There's a lot to be determined as how it will actually function, " DPP's Apuna said of the commission.

Addressing why the commission has remained dormant for 30 years, Kiaaina said due to its "contentious nature, neither a City Council or mayor has acted."

At this time, however, the prospect of a working commission appears less contentious, as an official from the Building Industry Association of Hawaii stood behind the lectern.

"We are very pleased at the process, " said Kanekawaiola "Max " Lindsey, the chairperson of BIA's government relations committee and a senior project manager at Mark Development Inc. "We recognize the efforts to improve communication and improve the administrative process that's involved with building in Honolulu."

In an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Lindsey said there were concerns about an earlier draft of the bill, which had some requirements the BIA considered redundant with state rules. He added, "Those were adjusted, and new sections added to clarify the intent and minimize any additional administrative burdens."

Commissions must be established by charter rather than passing a new law, Blangiardi said at the news conference. So instead of signing off on the Council's bill, Blangiardi said he will let it pass into law, then use his "executive reorganization power " to set up the commission with a charter.

The law will take effect in 60 days from Tuesday, Blangiardi's spokesperson Ian Scheuring said. Anyone interested in serving on the commission may send a cover letter and resume to mdoffice @honolulu.gov.

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