Owners of historic homes on Oahu would see their property taxes increase to $1,000 under a measure that cleared another hurdle at the City Council Wednesday.
Chair Ron Menor was absent for the vote and only Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, whose district contains many historic homes in Manoa, voted against the bill.
Written testimony on Bill 52 — mostly authored by owners of historic homes — has been overwhelmingly against the tax. Homeowners argue low property taxes help them afford the cost of maintaining a historic home.
Supporters of the bill argue Honolulu already has a generous tax exemption for historic homeowners.
Most historic homeowners currently pay about $300 annually in real property taxes. Under the bill, other properties that receive exemptions, like properties owned by nonprofits, would continue to pay $300 annually.
Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga said many of her constituents “who aren’t necessarily well off, as the bill seems to imply,” have reached out to her regarding the bill.
Many historic preservation activists don’t have “unlimited means” to upkeep a historic home, she said.
Both she and Councilwoman Kymberly Pine voted in favor of the bill with reservations.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who introduced the bill, told Civil Beat that he believes most homeowners in the program can and should pay more in property taxes.
Low-income residents can receive a property tax credit if they show the city they earn no more than $60,000 annually and own no other real property, he said. Anderson’s office is looking into adding another provision to the bill that would require historic homeowners to itemize their home upkeep expenses every year, he said.
“Being that the average real property tax bill in Honolulu is $3,000, I feel that a $1,000 fee for participating in the program is more than fair,” he said.
Many who submitted testimony complained that historic homes were singled out.
In 2010 the Star-Advertiser reported that although historic homeowners receive property tax exemptions, not all of them comply with the requirements. Though historic homes must be visible to the public, the article found that many were obscured and did not open their properties to the public for the required 12 days out of the year.
Homeowner Robert E. Fox wrote in testimony that inspectors often show up at their house to ensure security gates are open. With roughly 300 historic homes on Oahu, Fox argued the additional revenue wouldn’t amount to much.
“(Historic home owners) expose ourselves because the ethic and goal of exposure is a good thing for the people of Hawaii,” Fox wrote. “We educate people about the historic architecture, the historic development, the cultural history and change over time, so that the Hawaiian citizens can have a fuller understanding of how this diverse and proud nation evolved.”
In other action Wednesday:
• A bill to close a loophole in Honolulu’s plastic bag ban that allowed thicker plastic checkout bags finally passed. By 2020, all plastic bags will be phased out.
Each City Council member took a moment to applaud the bill — and the efforts of Fukunaga, who chaired the committee that oversaw the bill, and Councilman Brandon Elefante, who introduced the bill last year.
Most testimony at the meeting was in favor of the bill.
• The council voted to extend the sit-lie ban, which aims to discourage homeless people from loitering in front of storefronts, to a portion of King Street in the McCully/Moiliili area. Everyone but Elefante, who consistently opposes sit-lie measures, voted to pass the bill. The bill cleared its second reading, which means it faces another committee hearing and one more hearing before the full council before it goes to the mayor’s desk.
• Two affordable housing measures passed second reading. Bill 58 would require developers in areas near the rail line to keep affordable housing units affordable for 30 years and set a requirement for what percentage of units built should remain affordable. Bill 59 would provide various incentives to developers looking to build affordable housing.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell testified in support of the bills.
• Bill 50, which was the next step in a charter initiative process that aims that calls for a review of the need for Honolulu’s boards and commissions, also passed its second reading. The bill would establish a process to periodically review certain boards and commissions — including the Neighborhood Commission, which oversees neighborhood boards — every five years.
• After last-minute amendments by Councilman Trevor Ozawa, the council passed Bill 6, which makes it illegal to use cell phones while crossing the street, with certain exceptions. Councilman Brandon Elefante introduced the measure. First-time offenders would receive a fine of $15 to $35. Third-time offenders would be fined $75 to $99.
• The council unanimously approved two measures, Bill 64 and Bill 63, to allow the creation of the Waikiki Transportation Management Association, a private, nonprofit group made up of transportation companies and other Waikiki tenants and property owners. The association would regulate traffic on Waikiki streets.
Natanya Friedheim contributed to this report.