The Kauai County Council is preparing to give coastal landowners a big gift — an exemption from shoreline rules and regulations.
Bill2461, which was inexplicably passed out of Committee and goes to the full Council on Wednesday, grants a waiver to some 671 coastal properties. The so-called “bright line” exemptions encompass most of the lands still undeveloped along the coast.
Just take a gander at these maps, which show you exactly how extensive these exemptions are. They pave the way for projects like Pierre Omidyar's Hanalei Ridge and other blufftop and cliffside developments. (The link will give you higher quality graphics.)
Under the proposed new law, coastal landowners can get an exemption from shoreline rules, including possibly even shoreline certifications, so long as they are 20 feet above sea level, out of the FEMA flood zone and adjacent to a rocky shoreline.
They will be allowed to build their houses just 40 feet from the shoreline, though if no certified shoreline is required, how will we know where that setback line truly begins? Will a shoreline be required, or even a setback, for that matter, because doesn't exempt mean just that — exempt?
And aren't some of those rocky shorelines adjacent to areas with the highest erosion rates, and subject to hazards of their own? Hazards like wind, mud slides, big surf pounding the coast. We've all chunks of cliff fall away, and the only reason we haven't seen houses also sliding down the pali is we've had very little bluffside development. But of course, folks want to get just as close to the edge as they can, and now the Council is prepared to let them.
Not surprisingly, a number of large landowners and high end Realtors are licking their lips at the prospect of building into cliffsides and atop bluffs.
The proposed law, as amended and manipulated by Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura to please the developer crowd, does nothing to protect view planes and prevent houses from hanging on the edge of the bluff, as has occurred all along Kauapea, much to the detriment of that previously wild beach.
State law requires the county to develop regulations for governing structures, use and activities along the shoreline. But with this proposed ordinance, the county is abrogating its mandate and essentially washing its hands and saying “anything goes” along much of the remaining coastline. Is that even legal?
The new law also has deleted the regulation of “activities,” which means they're creating this big gray zone over how weddings, surf schools, vendors, etc. will be handled in the setback. The Council is saying the special management areas would still apply, but anything under $500,000 is exempt, as well as single family residences. So how meaningful is that?
The bill states as its rationale the need to give the planning director greater flexibility, though he has always had the ability to waive shoreline certifications, as we've seen happen repeatedly in the Wainiha-Haena vacation rental zone, to the benefit of landowners. But this approach is more akin to a wholesale opting out than mere flexibility.
Kauai has always prided itself as having one of the strongest shoreline bills in the state, but if it accepts these amendments, the Council will be severely weakening our bill. For years coastal preservationists have been pushing the county to move beyond the minimum 40-foot setback, but with these amendments, that will become the default setback for any parcel 20 feet above a rocky coastline.
Though this bill has been in the works for nearly three years, the Council's planning committee rushed it through, making substantial amendments in session, but never taking the time to actually read the fully amended bill that they were approving. JoAnn is determined to give developers what they want, and Ross Kagawa and Mason Chock seem befuddled by the bill's complexities, which serve to mask its inadequacies.
It's time for a time out. The Council needs to send this bill back to committee — and even the planning commission, since it has changed so much since that panel approved it — to consider more carefully the ramifications of the last-minute amendments that were made.
It seems the Council is putting its trust into Sea Grant, but those guys aren't allowed to give advice, so it's not up to them to point out the bill's flaws. Still, the maps Sea Grant prepared speak volumes.
So truly, take a look and decide. Are you OK with exempting from shoreline rules all the coastal areas marked with a bright red-pink line? If not, you'd best get your comments into the County Council ASAP, because this bill is going before them on Wednesday and Council Chair Jay Furfaro has said he doesn't want a lot of changes made at full Council.