Lingle pushes for land use laws
The governor wants lawmakers to address zoning distinctions
KAILUA-KONA » Gov. Linda Lingle used a lunch speech Friday on the Big Island to back a bill that would resolve some land-use tangles.
The bill exempting a 700-lot subdivision in Kona and similar developments from some state laws advanced with a House vote Friday before heading to the House Finance Committee. The Committee on Economic Development and Business Concerns approved the bill Thursday.
The 1,550-acre Hokulia project is on land zoned agricultural and was approved by Hawaii County before a judge ruled it was in violation of state law.
The development, which has been idled for more than two years, has shone the latest and brightest spotlight on land use issues, but Lingle said similar problems previously cropped up on Maui and Kauai.
"There has to be a fix in this legislative session," Lingle told more than 200 people at the Kona Kohala Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday at the Sheraton Keauhou Resort & Spa.
The bill, proposed by Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, would allow single-family homes on agricultural land if no more than 10 percent of the lot has high grade soil. It also includes homes previously approved by county zoning ordinances if lots have been sold and infrastructure work has begun.
This would clear the way for the $1 billion Hokulia project, because county officials gave their approval more than a decade ago.
Work on Hokulia was halted in late 2003 when Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra ruled it was not appropriate use for agricultural land and developer 1250 Oceanside Partners should have asked the state Land Use Commission to reclassify the property for urban use.
Homeowners then sued for $265 million. The case currently is before the Hawaii Supreme Court, which has turned down a plea to expedite a hearing.
"Judge Ibarra was not incorrect," Lingle said Friday. "But citizens have a right to rely on the government's word."
Lingle said the bill is a start to clarifying and streamlining the entire land use, planning, development and construction process.
"It's not fair," she said of the Hokulia entanglement. "Say it's your own one acre or two acres and the county approves a building permit; then you can't build. Anyone could see that's not fair, if it's happening to them. The government has to keep its word."
Historically, the state has used the agricultural zoning category as its default listing for lands that don't fit anywhere else.
Lingle said the state now must clearly define lands that "can actually be used for bona fide agriculture."
The aim is to protect the most productive agricultural land and slide other chunks into the rural category, she said.
Thursday's hearing in Honolulu of the House Committee on Economic Development and Business Concerns included several hours of testimony.
Supporters included Big Island business leaders, landowners and the mayor.
Claude Onizuka, Hokulia director of community and public affairs, said the state should not penalize developers who obtain the proper permits. He said the bill would resolve the Hokulia matter and lawmakers could then ensure it is not repeated.
Opponents included the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and numerous environmental advocacy groups.