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Honolulu Officials Gear Up For Enforcement As Council Passes Monster Home Restrictions

Honolulu Hale/Creative Commons

After several years of debate, a measure to regulate monster homes on O?ahu is awaiting Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s signature. The bill passed the City Council Wednesday, but the head of the department that will enforce the proposed rules says some details need to be hammered out.

Monster homes have long been a source of complaints in neighborhoods across the island, especially in established communities like Palolo, Kalihi and Manoa.

A revised Bill 79, which passed unanimously with Council member Heidi Tsuneyoshi expressing reservations, places certain restrictions on oversized homes in residential areas, such as how large a house can be.

But there is still work to be done by the Department of Planning and Permitting to implement and enforce the measure if signed by the mayor.

Acting Department Director Kathy Sokugawa said she would have liked the council to have fine-tuned the bill, such as clarifying the language on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and wet bars allowed on a property.

“As you know, there are often more than one house or dwelling unit on a property," she said Thursday. "So it makes a very big difference if we’re limiting or restricting these rooms by the house or by the lot.

"For example, if you have a limit of four bathrooms, if you have three houses on the lot, does that four limit apply to each house? Or to the entire property?”

While the measure awaits action by the mayor,  Sokugawa said the department will be ironing out as much as it can administratively.

In the meantime, community groups are celebrating the passage of the bill.

"This has been a long journey, from the initial moratorium in 2017 until now," said Tyler Dos Santos-Tam with the group HI Good Neighbor. "There was a lot of opposition from well-meaning folks who had concerns about unintended consequences. But we came together in the end, and we came up with a compromise."

Dos Santos-Tam said the measure is a good starting point toward solving the monster homes issue, while also allowing multi-generational households to continue building. But he is concerned about how the city will enforce the measure.

"The Department [of Planning and Permitting has] always said they need or want more tools or staffing in order to catch the people abusing our system at the beginning of the process rather than at the end," said Dos Santos-Tam.

"Right now, the city is going through its budget process. I hope that through that process it results in DPP getting more staff, getting more support. And if that means upgrading their computer systems or internal processes -- that's going to be the next step."

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously credited Associated Press as author. 

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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