Editorial for Sunday — September 28, 2003

• Ag land zoning


Ag land zoning

While zoning land for agriculture has kept Kaua‘i green such zoning needs to be reevaluated.

That’s the message Gov. Linda Lingle is telling the Democratic side of the Legislature.

Lingle has captures in a nutshell the problem that is driving the cost of land and homes through ceiling for the average worker on Kaua‘i. She said: “If you restrain the amount of available land to build houses, you drive up the cost of the land that is available.”

She is saying that the ag land classification has been an easy catch all for planners and government officials, but that it is time to more carefully consider what are prime ag lands, and which lands need to be opened up for development of homes that more workers in Hawai‘i can afford.

This change is long overdue. The tight zoning controls on coastal areas has had mixed results in keeping coastlines undeveloped, and has worked to keep access open in most cases.

However, with the closing down of sugar cane plantations across Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i large tracts of ag land are open. Many of these acres of land are prime when considered for sugar cane growing, but not for cultivating many other crops.

The law of supply and demand could have been tipped far away from the lack of land and homes that’s now fueling a real estate market that seems to have no price ceiling. Homes in every district of Kaua‘i are going for a premium in part because real estate agents have little to sell, and because Mainland and foreign buyers see Kaua‘i as a deal when comparing real estate prices to desirable areas of California and other locations.

The tract of homes built with the support of Princeville Corporation at Kilauea is a good example of the type of housing that Kaua‘i residents need now. Affordable both in construction and land price, and with lending plans that an average family can afford.

This new tack for the governor will come to a head when the 2004 session of the Legislature opens up. As housing is such a critical issue at this time on Kaua‘i and in Hawai‘i hopefully there will be a compromise that Democratic legislators can live with that will expedite the opening up of more lands for reasonably-price single family dwellings.

If there is no movement on this issue, there will be a movement by local workers who will join the exodus to Las Vegas and other areas on the Mainland where the average worker can afford to own their own home or condominium. In a generation or two Kaua‘i could lose more of its traditional rural Hawaiian lifestyle as the makeup of the Island’s population changes due to a lack of rentals and affordable homes to purchase.

This is a serious problem today, with rents in some areas double and triple what they were just five years ago, and with the lowest real estate listing price for a single-family home now pushing well over $200,000 and on the way to $300,000.

During Governor Lingle’s “Talk Story” visit to Kaua‘i this week this issue should be a key item to discuss.

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