Wednesday, July 11, 2007

20 years later, doctors may get their zoning OK

WAILUKU – There isn’t a warning sign at 1883 Mill St., but there could be. It could say: SLOW – COUNTY ZONING IN PROGRESS.

Last week, the County Council Land Use Committee voted 8-0 to go ahead and rezone the lot to B2 business for a doctors’ office, which is what it is.

Drs. Riggs Roberts and Jane Kocivar have been using it for that since 1985, and it was a plantation dispensary at least 60 and maybe 70 years ago.

Roberts, Kocivar and the late Dr. Steve Moser applied for zoning in 1988.

The doctors had obtained a conditional use permit in 1985, after the building had been used for a private residence from about 1970 to 1983. Roberts said Friday he didn’t know the whole history of the building, but “it was fascinating” when he and his partners went in to renovate it.

“It was very fascinating to see that it had been a clinic for quite some time,” he said. Rooms were equipped with “little cabinets and little drawers” useful for a dispensary.

Deputy Planning Director Colleen Suyama said old-timers recall when it was a clinic for Wailuku Sugar Co.

But when the county created zoning, the lot was listed as R1 residential, allowing a single-family residence but not a business.

The conditional use permit was not meant to be permanent, and the doctors were advised to apply for appropriate zoning – B2, which allows professional offices and about five dozen other kinds of uses, and buildings up to six stories.

Before the doctors’ application came up for action, the Planning Department became concerned that older parts of Wailuku and Lahaina were losing their charming old residences as commercial development expanded from the tiny town cores of the prewar days.

The proposed solution was a zoning category to be called Service-Business-Residential. Old residences would be allowed to convert to low-impact business uses without having to meet every kind of commercial zoning regulation. They would keep their existing setbacks, for example, which are wider for residential than for business uses.

The doctors were advised to amend their application to SBR. They did.

In the 1996 revision of the Wailuku-Kahului community plan, their 17,000-square-foot lot and a few others were marked SBR.

But in 1998, the County Council declined to enact an ordinance to establish SBR zoning.

The Planning Department never revived it.

Suyama said one reason was that thinking had changed. SBR was seen not as a regulation of use but a regulation of design, which would require modifications of building standards rather than zoning codes.

However, that never happened either.

Time marched on. Someday – in about two years – the conditional use permit would be up for renewal.

The doctors were advised to go back to asking for B2.

The county requires consistency at all three levels of zoning in order to change zoning.

To be zoned for business, a parcel must be in the state urban district, which the doctors’ office is.

It also must have community plan designation for business, which it does.

Deputy Corporation Counsel James Giroux wrote an opinion that although the community plan designation of SBR was for an nonexistent category, the intent was the same. Therefore, he concluded, there was no inconsistency.

He failed to persuade Council Member Michelle Anderson, who argued Thursday that the request was inconsistent.

The county proposed to put conditions on B2 zoning, so that, for example, the doctors could not increase the height of their one-story plantation-era building.

The restrictions were so restrictive, Anderson contended, that they amounted to a conditional permit.

Why not just make their permit “evergreen”?

Not appropriate, said Suyama. Permits are not supposed to become immortal.

There was then a long wrangle about whether one condition should allow a residence to be built on the lot.

Council Member Riki Hokama voted against that, but it was put in anyway.

Nobody was blaming the doctors.

“It’s our fault,” said Anderson.

Council Member Gladys Baisa said: “It’s distressing that we allowed a situation like this to go on and on and on.”

Roberts said he was “fine” with whatever zoning the county approves that allows the medical office to continue.

“I’m going to keep working, keep serving,” he said.


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