County Council to address public access and ag land use

The Kaua’i County Council is expected to take action on legislation at its Thursday meeting – one to preserve public access and one to preserve agricultural uses on land designated for such uses.

Former councilman and now Kaua’i Sen. Gary Hooser had pushed for legislation to protect public access through private property from the shoreline to mountains.

His intention was to require the Kaua’i County Planning Commission to require a landowner, as a condition for granting final subdivision approval for a project, to dedicate access over his or her property where no access exists.

The bill emerged as a result of government and public concerns over some mainland interests that have bought former plantation lands and have closed public access through them.

In defense of actions by landowners to fence off properties, some residents pointed out people actually trespassed whenever they traversed through the canefields on Kaua’i.

In the past, plantation officials warned people to stay off their lands, but have not chosen to aggressively pursue prosecution of trespassers.

Another part of the bill calls for action by the county engineer in the closing of public trails during emergencies.

An original draft of the bill allowed the council to close a county trail only after the county engineer had determined a path needed to be closed for more than 90 days due to an emergency.

At more recent meetings, residents called for a shorter time period. Richard Stauber of Kaua’i called for a 30-day period before the council got involved.

But citing existing state laws, Hanalei resident Ray Chuan contended the proposal giving the county engineer the power to close a county trail or pathway was illegal.

Chuan argued that case law permits private parties to reopen pathways or trails closed by the county for cited reasons of danger and liability.

In an incident in recent years, the county closed a county trail to Queens Bath at Princeville and a parking lot by the swimming area due to a drowning and harsh weather conditions.

But after the danger passed and as community complaints mounted to reopen the trail, Chuan and members of the Sierra Club on Kaua’i successfully fought for the reopening of the trail and parking lot.

Related to the other measure up for council vote, the council is considering legislation to preserve agricultural uses on land zone for such uses.

Councilmembers view the legislation as a way to help protect Kaua’i’s agricultural industry.

The bill would restrict the use of covenants, bylaws or administrative provisions to limit agricultural uses in agriculture and open districts, including “gentlemen ag subdivisions,” where the lands are primary for residential use and not for farming.

In past meetings, at least one proponent of the bill said he should have the right to farm in an agricultural subdivision, in spite of covenants or bylaws set by an association restricting such uses.

On the other side, at least one critic said associations have the right to restrict farming on agricultural lands and that those who buy into agricultural subdivisions should abide by association decrees.

In other matters, council chairman Kaipo Asing has asked Mayor Bryan Baptiste to attend the Jan. 16 meeting to discuss the “circuit breaker credit” law approved by the council Dec. 19.

Asing said he wanted to discuss these issues and others with Baptiste or his representatives: Uniform interpretation of the law, what information is needed from the public before they can apply for the credit, the county agency that would work with residents qualified for the credit and plans by the administration to inform the public about the legislation.

The legislation is intended to help longtime residents remain in their homes as their assessments have spiraled due to high-priced and sometimes repeat sales of properties around them over the past four years.

Finding merit in the bill, Baptiste signed the legislation into law Dec. 23.

The law would limit the taxes in the homestead classes to a percentage of the adjusted gross income of the household.

Qualified property owners who have exemptions would be entitled to a credit “in the amount that the real property tax assessment on the homeowner’s property exceeds three percent of the household,” the legislation notes.

The legislation noted that under no circumstances would the tax bills, after the credit kicks in, be less than the 2001 taxes assessed on the property.

Property owners who paid less than they paid in the previous year would not have to apply for the tax break.

The tax credit would not be offered to those who are behind in their tax bills. The legislation would be in effect for only a year, after which the council will pursue efforts to restructure a tax system that they said would be more fair to all taxpayers owning properties.

Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681, Ext. 224, or mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net.

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