Honolulu building permit seekers whose applications expired due to city delays could get a partial refund of their plan review fee if a proposal advances at the Honolulu City Council.

Gubernatorial Candidate Rep Andria Tupuola.
Andria Tupola said she is responding to a wave of community complaints about the city’s permitting department. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Currently, the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting can cancel permit applications that have been in its system for 365 days, and the applicant forfeits their entire plan review fee. That fee, which is 20% of the building permit fee, would be over $1,000 on a $500,000 project.

Under Bill 58, applicants would get back 75% of their plan review fee, and the department would be required to notify them in writing about the impending expiration.

The average building permit approval timeline is approximately 247 days, according to council member Andria Tupola, who introduced the bill. Even with planned improvements, DPP is only expected to reduce that time period to 167 days, she said.

The current law is “adding insult to injury for those already punished by existing permitting problems and delays,” she said in a statement. The refund may incentivize the department to move faster, she said.

“The idea that anyone, in any scenario, would be required to sit in line for a year in our permitting process, hoping and praying for project approval, to then get beat by the clock, and be told to pay for the privilege of starting again, is unbelievable, but that is the desperate reality of the situation so many people find themselves in,” she said.

“The permitting process should not be this long or this costly for those seeking to develop or improve their homes and business.”

Bill 58 is part of a legislative package Tupola is proposing to reform the city’s troubled permitting process. In October, she introduced Bill 56, which would allow property owners to make repairs to existing structures without a permit. Currently, a permit is required for any work that costs more than $5,000.

Two other measures are resolutions. One urges the Hawaii Legislature to revise state law so that building codes are updated every six years instead of every two years. That way, there are less frequent changes that DPP staff have to learn and implement, the resolution states.

Another resolution urges Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration to expedite the hiring of DPP personnel to tackle the permit application backlog.

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