Today's full moon, perched above the mountains, illuminated the night so brightly that the Norfolk pines cast long shadows on the cold, wet grass when the dogs and I went to check things out. Later, big swoops of charcoal clouds tinged with orange and overlaid with smaller puffs of silver-gray spoke to unsettled weather ahead.
It's extremely unsettling to see SB2341 making its way through the Legislature, for a couple of reasons. First, it amends the law to allow short-term rentals of less than 30 days on ag lands, which opens up them up to the kind of mini-resorts we've seen pop up all over the North Shore of Kauai. This works to drive up the price of ag land so it's no longer affordable for farming, which we've also seen happen here.
And second, it shows that Kauai County has been violating the law by allowing vacation rentals on ag land, and that attorneys representing ag TVR owners are lying when they claim these uses are legit.
Because if ag TVRs aren't illegal, why must state law be amended to specifically allow them?
In its testimony, the Office of State Planning states the law quite clearly (emphasis added):
HRS Chapter 205 specifically limits the permissible uses in the Agricultural District to discourage the use of agricultural land by higher value, non-agricultural land uses. The only dwellings defined as permissible uses in the Agricultural District are farm dwellings that are located on and used in connection with a farm or a dwelling occupied by persons or families deriving income from agriculture, as defined in HRS Section 205-4.5(a)(4).
Allowing short-term or vacation rentals as a permissible use in the State Agricultural District would increase land values in the Agricultural District and make land less affordable for farmers. This would contribute significantly to the loss of agricultural lands to higher-value non- farm uses, and could adversely impact the viability of diversified agriculture in Hawai'i as well as food and energy security for Hawaii's people.
So why are some of our Council members, planners and planning commissions so dense that they believe otherwise?
The measure also deletes the provision that prohibits ag tourism activities in the absence of bona fide farming operations, something that rightly registered alarm with the City and County of Honolulu's planning department. As it testified:
No agricultural uses need be present on the property. The language could be interpreted to refer to hotels. The allowance of overnight accommodations would be contrary to the purpose and intent of retaining agricultural lands to support agricultural activities and services.
U no dat. Yet here on Kauai, the attitude is, “No farm? No problem. You can still have a permit for your luxury hotel, I mean TVR. But down the road, we might look and see if you do have a farm.”
As the Hawaii Farm Bureau astutely noted in its testimony:
These types of activities are called agritainment in other areas of the country and are not considered agriculture. Allowing such activities on agricultural lands has the potential to result in conflicts and negative impacts on farming operations.
To make sure these “agritainment” uses can proliferate, the Senate is also considering SB2350, which permits the construction of “ohana” units in the ag district, with no requirement that they be linked to farm operations.
Interestingly, this bill is supported by politicians, but opposed by the group it is supposedly intended to benefit: farmers. Both the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and Russell Kokubun, director of the state Department of Agriculture submitted testimony against the measure, saying it would lead to the proliferation of residential on ag lands.
The Farm Bureau pretty much summed up the issue with this comment:
Rather than increasing non-agricultural uses on agricultural lands, we suggest creating mechanisms to increase farm and ranch viability so farms and ranches will not need non-agricultural activities to supplement their incomes.
Both of these bills are currently before the Senate Committees on Agriculture, and Water, Land, and Housing, which are set to vote Thursday afternoon. It's super easy to submit testimony; just follow the Senate bill links above and click on the blue Submit Testimony button.
It may be too late for Kauai, but at least we can keep the rest of the state from following our miserable lead.