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Can We Save Ag Land?

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

A new working group has been formed to review subdivision and condominium laws relating to agricultural lands. As we all know, there is constant temptation by developers around the North Shore to carve up large agricultural parcels into smaller units, and then sell them to buyers who may have no intention of farming the land. Accordingly, much of our ag land devolves into gentlemen estates, or fake farms.

I regularly speak with constituents from around the district about these concerns and I remain in constant contact with the regulatory agencies. Unfortunately, the regulatory system is not up to the challenge for some situations and enforcement is always difficult.

In recent years, I have introduced various pieces of legislation to give more enforcement tools to the county planning departments and the State Land Use Commission. In nearly every case, the measures pass out of the Senate, only to die in the House or in Conference Committee.

SB381, introduced by Senator Dela Cruz, directs the Office of Planning, Land Use Commission, Real Estate Commission, and Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting to study land subdivision and condominium property regime laws related to agricultural land and report findings and recommendations to the Legislature. It also requires the counties to adopt supplemental rules on condominium property regimes, including those that involve agricultural lands.

Over the last two years, I have worked more closely with Senator Del Cruz, who is also frustrated with the loopholes that plague enforcement of agricultural land policies. SB381, which became Act 178 this year, creates an interagency and stakeholder working group to address this vexing issue.

At the first meeting, nearly every example brought up for discussion is in our district. After years of working on these challenges, I helped inform the members of the intricacies related to each scenario. I called on the members to commit to solving the problem, rather than focus on why every proposed solution cannot work. We will continue with monthly meetings and optimism for a broad consensus.

Regarding agricultural lands, many owners are frustrated after buying a unit in a condominium property regime (CPR) and learning they cannot legally build a dwelling. There is a big difference between CPR units and subdivided lots. If a 100-acre parcel is legally subdivided into 50 2-acres lots, then all 50 lots can be permitted a dwelling or two. On Oahu, the creation of a CPR does not increase housing density or alter zoning. In other words, if there are 50 2-acre CPR units on a 100-acre parcel, only two dwellings might be permitted across the entire 100 acres; i.e., 48 units will not be allowed a dwelling. Buyers should also understand that it is against the law to sell land with a promise for a specific CPR unit or subdivided lot that does not yet legally exist.

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