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Curtailing Ag development on Kauai - The New Reality

The county of Kauai inches forward or is it backward) in its efforts to curtail development of agricultural property. After a couple of decades of a liberal approach to the creating of CPRs (Condominium Property Regimes) the county is finally taking a position in reaction to those in the community who wish to see development squelched. Four months after Mayor Bryan Baptiste proposed a bill to temporarily suspend new agricultural subdivisions on Kaua‘i, the county Planning Commission approved an amended version. Commenting in “the garden island newspaper Nathan Eagle reported about the current status today.

Why are we doing this now?” Commissioner Sandi Kato-Klutke said during a Tuesday meeting at the Lihu‘e Civic Center. “The mayor wanted it done Aug. 3. I’m exasperated.” Baptiste proposed the bill to preserve and protect existing agricultural lands while the County Council and Planning Department work toward developing new legislation and regulations to that end. The bill says the moratorium will end Dec. 31, 2008, or when the County Council or Planning Commission adopts legislation to protect the remaining ag lands, whichever happens later.

That date may be extended through a public hearing process and county approval. Exemptions to the moratorium include development of affordable housing and those subdivision applications that have already received tentative approval. I am not sure how the county is defining"tentative" in this context. In the Planning Department’s evaluation of the proposed bill, it recognized the need to develop more stringent controls on agricultural land use in order to ensure the viability of agricultural production in the county.

The department also recognized that “there are problems and inconsistencies in the regulation of agricultural lands.” Some of the contributing factors cited include the creation of residential condominium property regimes on agriculture-zoned lands, increase in residential density through additional dwelling units and the maintenance of commercial activities on ag lands. “After seeing the extent of the growth of agricultural subdivisions last year, I feel that we cannot wait any longer. We must take action now to maintain our rural identity in the best interest of the health and welfare of the residents of Kaua‘i,” Baptiste said in an Aug. 3 news release.

As a relative new comer to the state, it is ironic that the county is now taking this stance after so many decades of development. If this effort had been undertaken 10 years ago, then agricultural properties could have maintained their "rural character". Many mainland developers came to the island, invested in a property, CPR'd it, then sold the individual pieces for a large profit. My understanding is that these laws were originally developed so that Hawaiians could subdivide their land to keep it in their family and build family compounds. If that was the intention, it has surely been taken advantage of by Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian investors, who saw the  huge potential of this affordable method of development.

In the state of Hawaii, one can develop subdivisions through the county or, CPRs through the real estate commission. It is a relatively simple process that involves hiring an attorney, generating the CPR documents and working one's way through the approval process. I often explain to prospects that you can think of our condos as "horizontal condos" as opposed to the vertical condo model we are all familar with. As an example, i know of a small parcel on the North side of Kapaa that had a funky home on 1.25 acres. Since this land was zoned R-4 ( 4 homes to an acre), the lot allowed for 5 homes. The owner CPR'd the parcel into five pieces, sold off 4 vacant pieces of land and the one parcel with the original house. The original investment was 520,000 dollars and the gross profits were around 1.4 million. I don't know the exact costs, but you can see the profits were huge.

As i said earlier, this behavior has gone on for years and years, and most all the agricultural parcels have already been developed. Hence, the irony of the county and the mayor taking this stance now. Too little, too late. Perhaps that is the way of government.

I'm curious to hear the perspective from AR members on the other Hawaiian slands, and hear about the current status of CPRs where you live. and work.

Ron Margolis, RA, CDPE, ABR Hawaii Life Real Estate Services 808.346.7095 email: ron@hawaiilife.com

Comment balloon 0 commentsRonnie Margolis • December 02 2007 08:39PM