Rarely has a draft amendment created such a stir after the initial introduction of a bill—in this case, two similar bills. Both SB2633 SD1 HD1 and HB1678 HD1 SD1 attempt to amend the definition of “historic property” by exempting residential properties. Opposition has been voiced across the board, from testimony by architectural firms, archaeological societies, Hawaiian cultural groups, to concerned e-mail by private citizens from Waialea Bay to Kailua-Kona. And perhaps most significantly, as noted by Dr. Mark Nokes in a message to Senator Slom and his legislative colleagues, “The public were denied the opportunity to testify on these changes.”
The bills were originally introduced in an effort to protect culturally significant historic sites. However, the poorly constructed amendments are deeply flawed. “The SD1 version of this bill opens the door for all kinds of abuse by land speculators and developers,” wrote a concerned citizen. Glenn Mason, AIA, President of Mason Architects, submitted testimony pointing out two major flaws: “First, on its face it appears to establish that historic residences are less important than other properties, and … would set a dangerous precedent that is contrary to Federal preservation law and interpretations. The second major flaw is the assumption that the current law imposes onerous time delays in getting building permits. My own experience as an architect working on historic residences has shown this not to be true.”
Joe Ferraro, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal of Ferraro Choi, stated that “Hawaii’s historic houses are a significant part of our state’s historic and cultural resources. They are links to where Hawaii’s kupuna lived, where they raised their children, and the neighborhoods that were formed around them. They represent a building type that was in many cases designed by local and immigrant tradesmen rather than through architectural commissions. They are no less important than other architectural works and are irreplaceable treasures.”
Historic residential buildings in jeopardy.
Dr. Sara Collins, Legislative Chair of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology, spoke for over 150 professionals when she wrote, “Residential construction projects can often have an effect on non-architectural historic properties, such as human burials or buried cultural layers, which are adjacent to the structures or are potentially disturbed during project related excavation.” In other words, as one protestor put it, “At the last minute the two above bills were radically changed to exempt burial sites, trails and heiau from Hawaii’s historic Preservation Law. The public was denied opportunity to comment on these changes. What kind of Democracy is that?”
Writing in strong opposition to SB2633 SD1, Executive Director of the Historic Hawaii Foundation, Kiersten Faulkner, noted that current regulations define “historic properties as any building, structure, object, district, area, or site, including heiau and underwater site, which is over fifty years old.” Unfortunately this definition disregards “two additional criteria used to screen properties: historic significance and integrity.”
“The historic and cultural resources of Hawaii are a great legacy and irreplaceable treasures. No less than other types of historic properties, the homes and neighborhoods of Hawaii depict the architectural, social and economic history of the Islands. The natural beauty of Hawaii is complemented by its neighborhoods, small towns, vernacular architecture, blend of indoor and outdoor design features, and other characteristics … The houses of Hawaii are a reflection of its physical setting and social history.”
The classic YWCA building is in the historic registry.
Hawaii’s Thousand Friends provided two examples of two potentially devastating losses if the bills pass: “1) The former navy officer housing at Kalaeloa now owned by Hunt Corporation … has been allowed to deteriorate. The only thing keeping these residences from being demolished is their 50-year old status. Pass this amendment and they are gone. 2) In Maunawili Valley, on Oahu, the home where Queen Liliuokalani rested on her trips around the island and where she was inspired to write Aloha ‘Oe still exists … Will passage of this bill give the landowner the ammunition needed to demolish this historic residence?”
“Beautiful mansion bulldozed …”
Dr. Robert Fox of Honolulu commented, “Case in Point. Alii Nui Princess Ruth Kekauliki’s beautiful mansion in town was bulldozed and now all we have are postcards and old photos. Is this the way to treat the heritage of the Hawaiian state and its people? Please think for the long term …” Another example offered was the famous architect, Vladimir Ossipoff, who did create public buildings, yet the majority of his work—considered art—was residential. In another e-mail, a private citizen called the bills “a back door attack on cultural and environmental protections for the benefit of corporate and other big bucks speculation,” a motivation mentioned by many.
Perhaps the clearest, simplest objection voiced was: “Please respect cultural sites. Another Target or McDonalds we do not need.”
If you have strong feelings on these bills, please let Senator Slom know your views. As always, you can reach him directly on his cell phone, (808) 349-5438. As the Legislative Session winds down, time is running out.