Regulations will protect character of Lihue post office

LIHUE — If the Lihue post office is moved, new owners wanting to make changes to the Rice Street building would be subject to a review process.

“You have the National Historical Preservation Act, the state Historic Preservation Act and the Kauai County Preservation Act,” said Ka‘aina Hull, deputy director of the county Planning Department.

The Spanish Mission-style post office on Rice Street is one of only two post offices in Hawaii constructed during the Great Depression, and has been an anchor of downtown Lihue since it was built in 1939. It’s a fundamental part of the community, according to the Historic Hawaii Foundation.

In January, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to close the site and consolidate operations to its annex facility at 3230 Kapule Highway near the airport, citing parking and access to the post office as concerns.

If the location sells, the transfer of ownership would be under a review process, pursuant to section 106 of the National Preservation Act, said Alan Downer, administrator of the State Historic Preservation Division.

“The outcome might range, depending on the results of the consultation, from preservation in perpetuity to a much lower level of preservation,” he said.

Preservation conditions might be included as a covenant on the deed, which would spell out what the new owner must or could do, as well as what they would be prohibited from doing, Downer said

The act also requires federal agencies to hold public meetings. The USPS held a public meeting in January.

The deadline for the public to submit testimony to Cameron was last week. A decision has not yet been made, said Duke Gonzales, USPS spokesman.

Because no decision has been made, Gonzales said the USPS does not want to speculate on what would happen to the Lihue post office if the consolidation plan moves forward.

“Our priority right now is to review the comments that we received from citizens and community leaders so that we can make a decision that best meets the current and future needs of our customers,” he said.

But if the building sells, the new owner would have to adhere to a strict set of standards, Downer said.

According to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for rehabilitation, those standards include making minimal changes to the “defining” characteristics” of the building, preserving the the historical character, restricting design elements that don’t keep in with the time period and prohibiting chemical and physical treatments, like sandblasting, that could damage the structure.

If the Lihue post office, which as an assessed market value of $2 million, is sold to a private entity, that’s when the Kauai Historic Preservation Commission will come into play, Hull said.

“If they’re making alterations, they need a zoning permit,” he said.

While the proposed post office relocation is not a county decision, the Planning Department is working with the USPS, Hull said.

“It’s primarily a parking and access issue, and we believe there are solutions,” he said.

Solutions include working with the property owners to find a different way for cars to get in and out of the parking lot, adding on-street parking across the street and designating stalls for post office parking in the county parking lot.

The Planning Department has submitted a proposal with possible solutions to USPS.

“It is being considered as part of our decision,” Gonzales said.

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