The sky was just starting to stain burnt orange around the edges when Koko, Paele and I went out walking, two hours after we’d first gotten up to see a waning white moon huddled beneath fast-moving clouds driven by big wind that shook the trees and later brought rain. All that remained of that earlier wild scene was a thin wisp clinging to the makai side of the Giant, a fragment of rainbow overhead, a steely gray pile up atop Waialeale and the moon, still a long ways from setting.
The county planning commission still has a long ways to go in processing the 65 applications for vacation rental on ag land that have been submitted thus far — the deadline for applying is Aug. 16 — so it seems like a good time to revisit some of the core issues in hopes — yes, I'm ever hopeful — of addressing them before we sink any deeper into this quagmire.
After watching parts of last week’s commission meeting on the decidedly user-unfriendly county webcast, I became aware of a few things that I thought folks might like to know.
Like county planner Mike Laureta prepared Bruce Fehring’s TVR application. This came up quite by accident, when Commissioner Caven Raco was asking Bruce about his unsubstantiated assertion that getting approval for his Hale Kai Kalani TVR, which rents for an average of $1,300 per week, would not significantly increase his property values. Bruce was clueless, prompting Caven to ask, “Did you write this application?”
Uh, no. Bruce then outed Mike, who was stumbling through an explanation — “certain sections have to be refined to meet your certain situations” and “there are custom sections here that he wrote” — when planning director Michael Dahilig smoothly intervened: “The department assisted Mr. Fehring in writing this application.”
And next time, one assumes, it will more thoroughly coach the applicant on what he/she is signing.
The staff report, meanwhile, stated that no other TVR applications had been submitted for the Wailapa “ag” subdivision. I found that strange, since Bruce has another TVR, Twin Hearts, on the parcel, and the website shows it’s rented through October. Will it remain unpermitted? Or will he submit an application after Kai Kalani is approved? And if so, how, then, is the Commission supposed to consider cumulative impacts, as required under the law?
Which leads to another issue, which was raised by Commissioner Wayne Katayama, and that’s about parcels that have been divided through the CPR process. The county is allowed to approve special use permits on ag parcels of 15 acres or less, with the state Land Use Commission having authority over larger parcels.
So if, according to the planning director, the county has no jurisdiction over CPR units, only the entire parcel, and CPR lines don’t exist, only lot lines, how is the county able to claim it has authority to issue a special use permit for the 1.455-acre unit with the TVR, when it’s part of a parcel that is 22.10 acres in size? This permit application should properly be sent to the LUC.
This argument becomes even more critical because Bruce/Mike are claiming the TVR is needed to help support farming on one of the other units that Bruce owns within the larger parcel.
Wayne brought up another key point when he heard planners explain that CPR landowners typically put TVRS on an edge lots, which often offer ocean views, and conduct the requisite ag operations on the interior parcels within the CPR.
“The solution to that,” Wayne said, “would be a rezoning of that lot to bring it into compliance. The purpose of the special use permit is to help ag land, provide additional value for the ag land.”
Yes, rezoning would be the solution for so many of these thorny issues. But rezoning takes time and money, and landowners presumably wouldn’t have the benefit of county staff to prepare their applications and certain applicant-friendly (or unfriendly, as the case may be) inspectors to check their parcels.
But what really bothered me, aside from Bruce’s combative, “I’m entitled” attitude, was the way Commission Chair Herman Texeira cut off Caven when he was questioning Bruce. “I just want to minimize confrontation,” he said, effectively ending the discussion, since none of the other commissioners were asking any questions.
Caven had some legitimate questions for both Bruce and the staff, including why Bruce’s application was so “thin” compared to others and lacking such key data as the tax forms that supposedly prove Bruce is farming elsewhere on the parcel. His questions should have been answered, and Caven should be praised and encouraged for his diligence, not cut off and made to look like a troublemaker.
Besides anger at this dysfunctional process, and a sick feeling in my stomach, I was left with this: If Tex doesn’t want any “confrontation” and the planning department, which issues recommendations — in this case, it was for approval — is writing the applications, who is questioning the applicant about a special use that will give him the ability to generate thousands of dollars with a non-conforming use?