Zoning Inspector reports to Cost of Gov Commission

Recommendations about alternative Housing types


November 17, 20101 Hawai‘i County Building 25 Aupuni Street (Puna Conference Room) Hilo, Hawai‘i 96720 10:10 a.m. to 1:37 p.m.

Members and staff present: Marilyn Nicholson, Chair Gloria Wong, Vice Chair Glen Matsuda, Commissioner Eileen O’Hara, Commissioner Patricia Provalenko, Commissioner Kathleen A. Garson, Deputy Corporation Counsel Mary E. Crosson, Legal Clerk Shanell Sarsuelo, Legal Clerk

Guest: Scott Leonard

LEONARD: It’s great to have the opportunity to be here before you and to share with you some recommendations to the committee. I’ve been with the county for three years. I am a zoning inspector with the Planning Department. As a zoning inspector, that takes me out into the community for a wide variety of complaints that are generated by community members. And the recommendations that I have proposed are basically a result of my three years of experience.

Create Type-II housing. This is just—Type-II housing is just a title. It could be Type K, it could be Type B, it could be whatever you want to call it. But I just call it Type-II because we have one type out there, and that’s a permitted house. Type-II housing would also be a permitted house, but it’s for all those people that live out there in Rubbermaid sheds, tents, lean-tos, carports, buses. I mean, there are a lot of folks out there that live in shacks and such. Several years ago I had found out that there was an effort by Building Division folks as well as—I think we have one of our zoning inspectors involved in it—to build a very minimum structure. And this structure would be easily built, very cheap, and so they came up with a couple designs. And at that time, the Department of Health came along and says well no, you can build that but you still have to have a cesspool or a septic system. And that’s very costly. And if you look how these people live already, they don’t have any cesspools or septic systems. They don’t—they may have a basic water catchment system. But they live really off the land. They’re very basic in their lifestyle. And I would say that the way to approach this is to not try to make people conform to our established building standards, to find an alternative for people that want to live a little bit off the grid, a little more simply–to be able to have a home that still meets health and safety issues but are not restricted to our building standards. Type-II housing is similar to Type K in Mendocino, Sonoma counties in California, where they allow people to build basically the structure they want to build in rural developments. And I made some recommendations here as to what some of the parameters would be. Minimum square footage, 120 square foot. If you think of that and go wow, that’s not very big. But that’s a 10-by-12-foot tent. And there’s a lot of people that are living in tents smaller than that. A Rubbermaid shed, in which I’ve found people living in, is 7-by-7. And when you find people living in buses, they’re not living in the whole bus. Half that bus is full of stuff. And so they’re living in just a small, compartmentaled portion of that bus. So if we found a way in which people are able to live in a structure that is permitted by the county, that is cheap to build, that can be expanded upon, I think that we would find more people willing to do that. When you eliminate the high-cost items such as cesspool, septic system, and replace that with a Hawai‘i approved composting toilet, when you use rain water rather than hooking up to the county water system, if you happen to be in an area like that, you can reduce the cost of housing significantly. And you’ll also find community groups and organizations that are involved in helping people building homes who might be able to help a lot more people if the cost is significantly reduced. We also increase costs by saying okay, when you come into the Building Department, you now have to have it architecturally stamped, and that costs $700 or more. If we have architecturally approved already homes, in which people can go, that’s what I’m going to build and this is where I’m going to place it, then you’ve already got the architect approval for that structure. So then all we need to do is just make sure that it was built accordingly. So I think there’s a better way of handling our problems with housing than ignoring it, which is basically what we’re doing right now. We find somebody that’s in an illegal structure, we got a complaint, we’re forced by law to follow through with that, and they have to move. So where do they move? They find another lot somewhere and they set up their illegal structure there until somebody complains about it. So I think we need to take a pro-active approach towards this.

PROVALENKO: We have something like that currently in Kawaihae–Kawaihae transitional housing, which is something similar to 120 or 150 square feet, which was started with the county and through private development. When Nansay Hawai‘i was here, they partnered up with them. And so we do have a section of that that’s already been established, but it never went any further. And part of the problem was the cesspool situation.

LEONARD: Yeah, let me tell you a little bit of what my experience with that is. When we go out and we get a complaint, and the complaint is generally a whole list of things, and one of them is they’re defecating in the forest. And so we go out there and we look for the obvious health signs, you see stuff on the ground, what’s it smell like, and that sort of stuff. And so then you ask the people, well, where do you go to the bathroom? And then they say well, there’s a five-gallon bucket over there. That’s where we go. Oh, okay. Well, if you call Department of Health and say well, you know they don’t have a port-atoilet or anything and they’re going over there in that bucket, they’ll come out and they’ll confirm that and they’ll say well, you’re going in the bucket. What do you do with that? Well, we take it down to the transfer station. Okay, they throw it in the transfer station. Is that allowed? Yes, it’s allowed. And then I think–well, wait a minute. If we’re talking about Type-II housing–and years ago that was not approved because you had to have a septic system or a cesspool—but then here the Department of Health allows you to go to the restroom in a five-gallon bucket and throw it into a transfer station. Why on the one hand are you telling people you have to have cesspools and septic systems, and then on the other hand allow people to use a five-gallon bucket? There’s a disconnect there. And then when you know, or find out that in the state of Hawai‘i composting toilets are approved for use, then why don’t we promote that? Why don’t we allow that? So there’s certainly—I think there’s a lot of things that are allowed, we just need to coordinate better and work towards some clear solutions to these problems.

CHAIR: You said that this was allowed in some rural areas of California?

LEONARD: Right–Sonoma, Mendocino County, Humboldt County I think as well. It’s called Type K housing.

CHAIR: So it’s restricted to certain rural areas within the county, or the entire county?

LEONARD: No, it’s to rural areas. So I don’t think you can come into city limits and build the Type K housing. But this is kind of for people that live out in the remote regions, kind of, and to give them—

CHAIR: –So how do you envision that working here? What do you call a rural area versus a city, since our zoning’s a little different than it is in California?

LEONARD: Right, right. Well, typically what’s happening right now—I mean, you would say okay, places like Hawaiian Paradise Park or Hawaiian Shores, Hawaiian Acres—would you allow that sort of thing to take place? Is it going to be a function of— because those lots are fairly small–is it going to be something that you’d allow on large acreage, agriculturally zoned properties? Those are things that we’ll have to work out. It’s not clear. But I can say this, is that what I have seen on several occasions is a person from the mainland will see a lot, and he says oh, I want to buy that lot. And they may buy that lot from a picture on a real estate site. Okay, so then they grub it, and then they contract out to somebody and they build a house on it. And then they sell their property in Florida and they come here, they move into their home, and they’re sitting on the back veranda, and they’re looking out and they see some guy living in a tent. Or they see some house that’s close to their property and they go, well, that looks like an illegal structure. And then they file a complaint, all right. So then we have now where we have this established ohana for 15, 20 years—because some of these people have lived in tents for a long time. Some of these people have lived in these illegal structures for a long time. And now we have a newcomer coming in, and they set up their place, but they don’t like their environment anymore. And now they want the environment changed to what they find suitable. So it’s like we’re allowing outside influence to come in and to change our ohana, and so is one of the solutions to that to establish Type-II housing, where now there’s this architecturally approved structure? It may not look like this house over here, but at least it’s a permitted structure and the individual could still live on his land and be within the county permits. So I would—it may not be what this person wants to see next door, but it may be something that is more acceptable to them when they find out that oh, okay, well, it’s not exactly what I wanted. I guess I’ll have to plant some podocarpus there or something so I don’t see it. I think those issues we’ll just have to hammer them out a little more in detail, because people may disagree with 120 square feet, because right now the Building Code says 500 square feet.

MATSUDA: What happens—say you have a permitted structure at 120 square feet and they want to extend it another 40 square feet? Now, do you have to apply for another building permit for that additional 40 square feet?

LEONARD: Yes, you would. Yeah. But you wouldn’t do 40 square feet. So the idea here that I had in design possibilities is that you would design these homes—120 square foot, that’s Module A. 100 square feet, another 120, that’s Module B. Maybe a 200 square foot module is C.

MATSUDA: Right, right.

LEONARD: So a person who’s very limited on income could at least get into a structure, and then later on when he says let’s build a bedroom now, let’s add some more. And then these come together and are connected very economically, right. So it’s easy to put them together.


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