Council OKs measures trying to rein in 'monster' homes
Dec. 07--The Honolulu City Council approved legislation Wednesday that directs the Department of Planning and Permitting to come up with stiffer regulations on large-scale houses and renewed an effort to impose a moratorium on building permits for such structures until new rules are in place.
Resolution 17-276, which passed 9-0, instructs DPP to come up with a bill that would restrict houses to no more than a certain size based on an as-yet-to-be determined floor-to-area ratio or density. It would also place a yet-to-be-determined limit on the number of wet bars allowed per dwelling, and require each dwelling to have a minimum of two parking stalls for the first 2,500 feet and one extra stall for every additional 500 feet.
Council members also gave initial approval to Bill 110, which would place an immediate moratorium on the acceptance or approval of building applications for "new large detached dwellings" and for the conversion of existing structures into large dwellings. The moratorium would be in place for two years or until the Council adopts new regulations on the so-called "monster houses," whichever comes first.
More than a dozen people testified in support of the resolution, many of them offering their own horror stories.
Kapahulu resident Steven Yamashiro said the large houses have resulted in vehicles from the dwellings crowding onto the street. "Where I live, there's so many streets that turn pseudo-bidirectional streets," Yamashiro said. "Meaning to go out, I have to go out, wait for the next, and jump, leapfrog, leapfrog and jump. It's very dangerous. You can easily get into a car accident."
Yamashiro also questioned if the city has enough sewer capacity to handle the influx of larger houses.
Kaimuki resident Sarah Chinen said she is a real estate investor who will partner only with people who respect and improve upon the communities where they're buying.
The unscrupulous home builders are gaming city laws and using the loopholes to get their way while legitimate property owners run into difficulty getting permits from the city.
"It doesn't seem right to me that structures that embrace what Hawaii's about -- beauty and aloha -- meet up with permit snafus and that structures that feel and act like invaders are approved so easily," Chinen said.
Manoa resident Robert Fox, a real estate broker and contractor, said the concern about larger houses has been addressed in California by prohibiting new houses from having more than a "congregate" livable area of 3,500 square feet, including in multilevel structures.
His own research shows many of the workers building the large structures both in California and Hawaii are immigrants here on three-month tourist visas, not work ones, he said. "That's why construction is so fast," he said. "It's cheaper for them to bring in on a $2,000-a-flight round trip and pay $3 an hour to workers from mainland China with no workmen's compensation, with no liability, with no anything, who work quick but they're illegal."
Former state Rep. Corinne Ching said she's seeing her family's Sierra Drive neighborhood ruined by large houses and dishonest, greedy and disrespectful investors.
"These monster houses are aptly named because they represent values no community should cherish," Ching said. "These homes are big billboards for 'I don't care what I do to you and your communities.'"
After DPP drafts a bill triggered by the resolution, it will need to go to the Planning Commission for additional vetting before going to the Council for committee approvals and three votes of the full Council.
As for the moratorium bill, introduced by Councilman Ikaika Anderson, it will now go to the Zoning Committee and will require two more full Council votes.
DPP Acting Director Kathy Sokugawa said she does not oppose a moratorium.
An earlier bill that also sought a moratorium was shelved in the Zoning Committee.
Sokugawa took exception to the suggestion by a testifier that DPP does not respond to complaints. "We respond to every complaint," she said, urging residents to report possible violations.