Allow housing on ag land unfit for farming
The Legislature is considering a bill that would allow residential development on agriculture-zoned land unfit for farming.
A costly battle over development of a Big Island residential project on land zoned agricultural is close to being resolved by a legal settlement and legislation
. The actions are needed to circumvent a state judge's ruling that blocked the development, even though the land is unsuitable for farming.
Hawaii County gave its approval of the billion-dollar Hokulia development, designed for nearly 200 luxury homes on 1,550 acres of Kona. Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra halted the development when he ruled in late 2003 that residential housing on the land, zoned agricultural, required approval by the state Land Use Commission.
People who had bought 1-acre Hokulia lots for $650,000 to $2.5 million sued the county and state for $264 million, and the case is now before the state Supreme Court. The Hawaii County Council has recommended that the city agree to a settlement that has been reached with the buyers.
The case has broad ramifications. More than 2,500 agricultural subdivisions on the Big Island and 1,600 on Maui might feel they are at risk for building homes without engaging in farming. Actually, the state has used the agricultural zoning as a default for lands that don't fit other categories.
A bill proposed by Big Island Mayor Harry Kim would resolve the issue by allowing single-family homes to be built on ag land if no more than 10 percent of the lot has high-grade soil. The bill, making its way through the Legislature, would include houses previously approved by county zoning ordinances if the lots had been sold and infrastructure had begun.
Governor Lingle supports the legislation, which she regards as a starting point to clarify and streamline the state's land use, planning, development and construction process. She is right in saying the state needs to clearly define lands that "can actually be used for bona fide agriculture."
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