Parts of Bill 64 would foster mixed-use neighborhoods

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Honolulu City Council on Feb. 8, 2024.

Feb. 8, 2024, 9 a.m.
Honolulu Hale

To: Honolulu City Council Committee on Planning and the Economy
      Esther Kiaʻāina, Chair
      Radiant Cordero, Vice-Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
           Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Aloha Chair Kiaʻāina, Vice-Chair Cordero and members of the Committee,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on the portion of Bill 64 (2023), FD1 that would amend the city’s land-use regulations governing residential uses.

In general, the amendments proposed in this measure would make it easier to build homes and would promote walkable mixed-use buildings and neighborhoods. Many of them accord with the recommendations we made in our report, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii.”[1]

We would like to comment specifically on proposed changes to three residential uses: multifamily buildings in B-1 and B-2 zones, accessory dwelling units and home occupations.

>> Multifamily units in business zones

The current draft of Bill 64 would allow multi-unit dwellings to be built in B-1 and B-2 zones in the Primary Urban Center development plan and Ewa development plan areas. Currently, multi-unit dwellings are permitted in the BMX-3 and BMX-4 zones.

This would be a good change. Historically, as we pointed out in our report, “it was normal for watchmakers, bakers, lawyers and all sorts of other business people to live in the same buildings in which they worked.”[2] Allowing multi-unit uses in existing business zones would promote the housing stock and also boost walkability.

However, we would suggest the Committee adopt the language suggested by Committee Chair Kiaʻāina or Councilmember Dos Santos-Tam — “A building must have at least one non-residential use” — as a replacement for the current language that a building must have at least 20% of its floor area be assigned to nonresidential use.

Given the state’s housing crisis, it is paramount that the city give builders flexibility in determining how to allocate residential and nonresidential use in a project. Some projects and buildings might not be suitable for the inflexible 20% minimum. For the dual goals of promoting mixed-use and boosting the housing supply, specifying that “A building must have at least one non-residential use” should be sufficient.

We also would encourage the Committee to delete the following bracketed language:

In the B-1 and B-2 zoning districts [multi-unit dwellings are permitted within the Primary Urban Center development plan and Ewa development plan areas]; provided that the following requirements are satisfied.

Most parcels zoned B-1 or B-2 are inside the Primary Urban Center and the Ewa development area,[3] but there are also such parcels in Kapolei, Miliani, Wahiawa, Kaneohe and Kailua. The city should not prevent the furtherance of mixed-use development in those towns.

>> Accessory dwelling units

We are encouraged to see the amendments that would cut red tape on the construction of accessory dwelling units. The current draft of Bill 64 already proposes to remove the requirement that a parcel’s owner must live in either the ADU or the primary residence. These owner-occupant requirements have been identified as “poison pills” to the rapid construction of ADUs in other cities.[4]

Likewise, we support the language in Committee Chair Kiaʻāina’s proposed amendment that would allow ADUs to be built on residential lots with more than one existing dwelling. Specifically, it would allow a maximum of three units on residential lots throughout the city. Such “upzoning” has been identified as an effective way to increase housing supply and lower prices.[5]

The current draft would also remove the one-stall parking minimum for ADUs so long as they are within 800 feet of a city bus station in the Primary Urban Center.

Committee Chair Kiaʻāina’s proposed amendment would expand that to the Ewa development plan as well. Parking minimums can add as much as $20,000 to the cost of building an ADU,[6] so removing them wherever feasible is a win for affordability.

Finally, the proposed amendment would clean up an error that would have limited ADUs to only long-term rental use, instead of residential uses in general — albeit not short-term rentals.

>> Home occupations

In our housing report that we released in December, we recommended that lawmakers relax restrictions on home-based businesses because small-scale mom and pop entrepreneurs can boost a neighborhood’s sense of community and place.

Councilmember Dos Santos-Tam’s amendment would strike the current prohibition on non-household members being employed at a home-based business. This is desirable because one can easily imagine a situation in which the operator of a small-scale spa or home daycare might want to bring in a helper for one or two days a week.

The physical constraints of operating an at-home business typically preclude a significant number of off-site employees working at the home at the same time. In the unlikely event that dozens of people were working at the home at the same time, the city could take action, if needed, under existing noise and nuisance laws.

Removing the requirement that items must be “produced by the household members” — as Councilmember Dos Santos-Tam’s amendment also proposes — would also help home entrepreneurs by making it easier for home-based businesses to sell goods made off-site. For example, an at-home bakery could then sell breads, muffins and cakes baked in multiple, off-site kitchens.

In conclusion, these several changes proposed by Bill 64 would help Hawaii address its housing crisis and expand business opportunities for everyday people.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Jonathan Helton, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, December 2023.
[2] Ibid, p. 15.
[3] See: “Zoning, (City and County of Honolulu),”  Hawaii Statewide GIS Program, accessed Feb. 2, 2024.
[4] Anika Singh Lemar, “How owner-occupancy regulations are contributing to the housing crisis,” Brookings Institution, Oct. 27, 2022.
[5] Helton, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” pp. 5-6.
[6]The Costs of Parking in Hawai‘i,” prepared by PBR & Associates for the Ulupono Initiative, August 2020, p. 3.


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