Gathering Place

David Kimo Frankel

Ag bill will help
preserve scenic
areas, farmlands

I have repeatedly acknowledged state Rep. Cynthia Thielen's environmental leadership. Her commentary on the Legislature's override of the agricultural bill suggests, however, that she is driven by partisanship these days ("Overriding agriculture veto will hurt farmers," Gathering Place, July 8). Her criticism of SB 255 is stinging; however, in March, she voted for the bill (with reservations).

The bill addresses a pervasive problem. Developers continue to pursue subdivisions resembling urban-type development marketed for upscale second homes on agriculturally classified land. They do so because agricultural land is cheaper than land designated urban and because they believe they can exploit legal loopholes to avoid public scrutiny.

Three years ago an Arizona developer proposed to build a hotel, 125 luxury houses and a golf course on agricultural land above Kealakekua Bay. The Land Use Commission effectively blocked the project when it recognized that the project was not agricultural. The same developer tried to restrict farming activities on agricultural land at the nearby Hokulia project.

On Kauai, a community association north of Kapaa threatened to sue a farmer for using windbreaks to protect his crops. The developers of Kealia Kai above Donkey Beach on Kauai have restricted farming activities to create a suitable atmosphere for the super-rich. Two weeks ago the Land Use Commission, after a lengthy hearing, condemned the excessive residential use of agricultural lands in West Maui.

SB 255 sends an important message to mainland speculators: We want to grow food on our agricultural land, not houses for the super-rich.

Perhaps motivated by her desire to support her Republican governor, Thielen paints a parade of horrible hypotheticals that have no basis in reality. For example, contrary to Thielen, the bill's provisions would not prevent an organic farmer from restricting the use of pesticides on land she or he leased.

Thielen's reliance on Governor Lingle to protect agricultural land is wishful thinking. In her gubernatorial campaign, Lingle made it clear that she wants to reduce protection of agricultural land. One of her proposals is to eliminate the Land Use Commission, thereby giving free reign to developers.

Soon after her election, she changed state policy regarding developers' plans for 4,500 acres of agricultural land in West Maui. The Office of Planning, under the previous administration, had taken the position that "subdivisions with lots resembling urban-type development and marketed for second-home and upscale residential markets are not agricultural in nature and are inappropriate in the Agricultural District." The Lingle administration reversed the office's position and announced that it no longer took a position on the appropriate use of agricultural land.

Lingle is being advised by Dan Davidson, the former lobbyist for developers and now deputy director of land and natural resources. So it should be no surprise then that she vetoed the bill.

SB 255 will help keep the county country. Scenic coastal areas like Donkey Beach on Kauai, Palauea on Maui and Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island have faced an onslaught of mansions masquerading as farmhouses. By overriding Lingle's veto, the Democrats helped to protect coastal lands, open space and local farmers.

David Kimo Frankel is chairman of the Sierra Club, Hawaii chapter.


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