Council passes construction code: New framework makes one permit for building, electric, plumbing and energy codes

Factory-built housing will continue to be allowed under the Hawaii County’s new building code, but with additional restrictions following a unanimous vote by the county council on Wednesday after lengthy discussion.

After previously agreeing to intensify inspections of factory buildings, the council approved a 5-4 vote that implemented further restrictions by Hamakua City Councilor Valerie Poindexter.

The chairman of the council, Aaron Chung from Hilo, as well as the councilor from Puna, Ashley Kierkiewicz, the councilor from Hilo, Sue Lee Loy, and the councilor from Kohala, Tim Richards, voted no.

The factory houses, intended as an affordable alternative to much-needed housing on the island, are being built to plans approved by the County Building Division. Construction, electrical and plumbing permits are required and the house will be inspected once it is brought onto the building site and connected to utilities.

Factory-built houses have been included in the building code since 2012, and few, if any, such houses are built. HPM Building Supply’s plans to make greater use of the structures to increase the island’s affordable housing stock affected Poindexter. Their concern heightened when the building division’s assistant director Neal Tanaka said the division had spoken with HPM about the prospect for two years.

“Bill 197 put in place provisions to help them bypass the inspections or not,” said Poindexter. “We’re bringing people into the homes we need to make sure they’re safe.”

Poindexter’s comments and claims that the construction department had approved their amendments were pushed back by Tanaka.

“There are many misrepresentations that DPW agrees with. We expressed our concern with you, ”said Tanaka. “I think we made it clear that the building department doesn’t sacrifice security. … safety is what we do. “

Lee Loy, who sponsored the original bill after working with the construction department, said the changes to the FBH built outside the county, which do not require the county building permit, gave an unfair advantage compared to those inside the county, who do this. That would mean that a factory house built on site would require two building permits – once in the factory, once on site.

“These amendments actually add to some bureaucratic bureaucracy about what we can do for affordable housing,” said Lee Loy. “I thought we would keep our workers working (but) we kick the door wide open to foreign factory houses.”

The revised building code includes building, sanitary, electrical and energy components. 197-page code consolidation streamlines the permit application and plan review process by consolidating the permits currently separate from existing codes into a single permit. Those in the construction industry have long rejected what they see as a slow, overly cumbersome, bureaucratic and arbitrary approval process.

The council faced an imminent deadline for the approval of the electrical and plumbing components, which pushed for the passage of the entire bill at the final reading. The deadline for the construction component of the building law does not run until November, so that further changes are likely to be available shortly after the bill is passed.

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