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Commission OKs Koloa plant permits

LIHU‘E — After nearly a full day of testimony and debate, the Planning Commission voted Tuesday to approve several contentious permits for a new manufacturing facility in Koloa.

The permits allow the Hawai‘i Planing Mill facility, which would construct wooden trusses and wall panels for housing in a large tent, to operate on land zoned agriculture.

Though previous Planning Commission meetings have included significant testimony both in support and in opposition to the plant, the Tuesday meeting was nearly all opposition, as dozens of residents expressed concerns about the facility’s effects on union labor, the neighborhood and development in general.

Representatives of HPM have touted the plant’s ability to reduce the cost of constructing affordable housing on island by increasing the production capacity, citing their previous work with affordable-housing developer Habitat for Humanity, which testified on the company’s behalf Tuesday.

“We’re already behind the ball in terms of building new units,” said HPM Attorney Mauna Kea Trask. “The whole point of building this facility is to increase competition.”

Union workers argued the benefits do not outweigh the costs — since the process the HPM uses for constructing trusses requires less labor than other techniques.

“You’re only saving the contractor roughly two dollars a square foot,” said Cal Santos, a Koloa resident and union member. “And that takes away tons of jobs from our tradesmen.”

All four Planning Commission members present voted in favor of the permits.

“I did hear the community and I am sensitive. Obviously, this was not an easy decision,” said Planning Commission member Donna Apisa. “I do appreciate the input from the community, and I am hopeful that this will all work out peacefully.”

The Planning Commission added several requirements for the plant, including that they prioritize local hiring, limit the use of trucks to certain areas, keep noise to under 70 decibels, make the tent an earth tone, and provide a status report within 12 to 18 months after the start of operation.
Source: The Garden Island

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