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Construction resumes at farmers market

Oft-delayed construction of a permanent structure at the Hilo Farmers Market is underway, with concrete poured and construction equipment sitting on the cordoned-off lot on the north mauka corner of Kamehameha Avenue and Mamo Street, next to Reuben’s Mexican Food.

“The hope was that they would try to get the structure up before Christmas. But because of delays in shipping because of COVID, now they’re looking at the first week in January that the structure will be up,” said Barett Otani, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim who is being retained by incoming Mayor Mitch Roth. “They’re making progress.”

Otani said concrete fittings for support poles will be set this week.

Building a roof over the produce section of the popular market is phase one of the project.

Keith De La Cruz, the market’s owner, said phase two and three — the construction of permanent shelters over the arts and crafts portions of the market on the Keaukaha side of Mamo Street — are “tentatively scheduled to start” in the first quarter of 2021.

Construction of the canopy and two others on the opposite side of Mamo Street has been pushed back numerous times. The market is in a tsunami inundation zone, which means it requires a Special Management Area permit.

The most recent delays occurred when cost estimates for a concrete firewall between the market and Reuben’s came in way over projections. Plans had to be resubmitted without the firewall but with a setback that would reduce usable space on the produce market parcel.

Until the recent start of construction, the improvement project had been on-again, off-again since 2008.

On March 16, 2018, a five-year extension of a five-year SMA permit for the project expired without a permanent structure being built, despite several sets of plans, each one scaled back from the previous set.

At that point, the county sent De La Cruz a letter saying he’d reached the deadline to complete the permanent structure. The letter said the market, which at that time was sheltered by tarps, was in violation of the county’s zoning, building and fire codes and would be fined $1,000 a day for each of the parcels the market occupies for each day violations continued to occur.

Otani told the Tribune-Herald in August 2019 the fines, which had reached $212,000, were halted when an updated set of plans were submitted. The county then halved the fines to $106,000, and suspended $81,000 of that total, leaving De La Cruz with $25,000 in fines still on the books.

De La Cruz said he paid the $25,000, which Otani confirmed.

Otani said, however, the county didn’t cash the payment and is holding the $25,000 as a de facto performance bond to ensure satisfactory completion of the project.

According to De La Cruz, operating the market during the pandemic has been challenging.

“However, we have a strong core of local customers who continue to shop at the market because of the value of our products, good customer relationship and a safe outdoor venue,” De La Cruz said. “Our Hilo harvest boxes have been very popular, together with home and business delivery services.

“For seniors and at-risk customers, we provide free delivery within one mile of the market.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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