The measure would make it easier to transform commercial spaces into residential. Some say the measure goes too far.

Amid concerns about having another empty building in Chinatown, Honolulu Councilman Tyler Dos Santos-Tam is suggesting that the Walmart that previously occupied the Fort Street Mall could serve as a possible location for new housing.

Dos Santos-Tam raised the idea in a press release Friday in connection with a proposed bill that would relax lighting and ventilation requirements to make it easier to convert “empty commercial spaces” into residential as the city tries to increase its affordable housing stock.

The Walmart closed Friday, with workers taking down the signs outside.

“The idea of Walmart turning into a dark, hulking shell is terrifying. Crime in Chinatown is bad enough – empty space will only make it worse,” Dos Santos-Tam was quoted as saying. ”We need solutions, and we need solutions now. That’s why I proposed Bill 21.”

The idea is that instead of waiting for new development, existing spaces could be used for housing. But Honolulu’s housing code has lighting and ventilation requirements that make conversion difficult, prompting Tam to introduce a bill that would ease those requirements in favor of the international standard.

The building that housed Walmart sits in what could be a prime location. The Downtown-Chinatown area is a walkable neighborhood with restaurants, shops, entertainment and bus lines. 

But it also has a reputation for crime and homelessness. Tam said commercial-residential conversions could help mitigate those problems. 

Bill 21 still needs two more Zoning Committee meetings and two more full council meetings in order to iron out the details and potentially pass into law.

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