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Honolulu inching closer to creating historic preservation commission

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Efforts to re-establish a Historic Preservation Commission on Oʻahu are moving forward.

“Honolulu is the only county in the state that does not have a preservation commission and one of the only major cities in the country without a commission,” councilmember Esther Kiaʻāina said Tuesday.

A bill to stand-up the commission passed out of the City Council’s Housing and the Economy committee on Tuesday following discussion with the city Department of Planning and Permitting.

The proposed commission would have nine members who would assist the city in identifying historical and cultural sites. Bill 44 was introduced by Kiaʻāina and Chair Tommy Waters this summer.

Kiaʻāina, the Housing and Economic Committee chair, said if the commission can form, it would be able to assist the state Historic Preservation Division as well as the city.

“Specifically, standing up the commission could mitigate the likelihood of destruction of historic sites alleviate workload on existing Department of Planning and Permitting staff increase proactive, proactively identify historic sites increased coordination with the State Historic Preservation Division to increase the likelihood that projects that should go to SHPD get referred and identifying projects that may not need SHPD review,” Kiaʻāina said.

SHPD’s Alan Downer stated he wasn’t familiar with the specific bill, but there’s general support.

“We have always supported the idea of standing of the commission,” he said Tuesday. “We think it will be very helpful for the county both in terms of project review, and also in terms of doing more proactive things to precisely protect the county system or province.”

In written testimony, former history professor Dorothy Pyle said she was hired by the state as a historian in 1970 for the Hawaiʻi Register of Historic Places, which is now the State Historic Preservation Office.

"As a group we were charged with creating the policies and mechanisms for the recording, evaluating, registering, and recommending archaeological and historical sites/places/items to the National Register of Historic Places," she wrote.

Pyle said the commission "is needed now more than ever due to population, tourism and development pressures on our historical past."

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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