Kauai Council brings Christmas early to Rice Street

With the passage of Bill 2687 the Kauai County Council seems poised to gift millions of dollars of increased property values to a relatively small number of owners located in Lihue along Rice Street with “no strings attached.” Landowners could get their density allotments doubled which doubles the number of homes/units they are entitled to build on their property, but there is no mandate for a reciprocal public benefit requirement.

They apparently are not required to do anything at all in return for the largess of the Council and could literally sell their property the day after this is signed into law and reap the profits, without turning a single shovel full of dirt.

Following today’s, Wednesday, July 11 council meeting is a public hearing on Bill 2687 introduced by Councilmember Arthur Brun. Testimony may be made in person at 1:30 p.m. at the Historic County Building or via email at counciltestimony@kauai.gov

Please read the actual Bill here: tinyurl.com/y9bonclf

The measure is framed as an initiative that will help alleviate the Kauai housing shortage, but unless it is significantly amended it appears to be just a gift to the landowners on Rice Street.

First in the warm and fuzzy section, Bill 2687 states:

“Findings and Purpose. The Council of the County of Kauai finds that there is an urgent need to address the shortage of available housing units on Kauai.”

Then finally when you get to the meat of the measure Bill 2687 states:

“By increasing the upper limit of the Residential Zoning designation for the Rice Street Neighborhood Design District from R-20 to R-40, the infill development capacity for creating a significantly greater number of residential density factors within the Lihue urban town core will essentially be doubled.”

Most who study and seek answers to Kauai’s ongoing affordable housing crisis agree that increasing density in Lihue is a key piece of the puzzle. But granting a windfall profit to property owners without obtaining a reciprocal commitment to fulfill the need to actually build affordable units for local residents is selling our community short.

I have written in the past, and I will repeat it again here:

“The invisible hand makes them do it. Without government serving as a counter balance, the invisible hand of free enterprise drives all development to sell to the highest bidder. More homes built for the market do not create more affordable housing. The trickle down theory does not work.”

The Council will hopefully amend this measure to require the development of affordable (clearly defined) units (for sale or rent) in return for the increased density that is being granted. Hopefully also, they will put in place a clear time line to motivate the landowners to take action soon and certainly within a stated time period of say, five years.

Yes, the private property owners must earn a profit in return for their effort and risk, and yes government must provide incentives for the development of affordable housing. But it is reasonable and necessary that the Council act in the public’s best interest by putting in requirements to ensure that affordable housing is indeed constructed in return for the benefit granted.

Otherwise, this is just a gift to the landowners along Rice Street.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the Hawaii State Senate, where he was Majority Leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

  1. RG DeSoto July 11, 2018 8:17 am Reply

    The real problem is that the county’s ridiculously restrictive land use regulations and zoning laws is the cause of the problem this “gift” proposes to alleviate—a housing shortage. Your comments support the position that the grantor of our rights is the government. This doesn’t surprise me coming from a rabid progressive…but nonetheless it is not true.
    RG DeSoto

  2. WestKauai July 11, 2018 10:40 pm Reply

    Increasing density only makes things worse, with parking issues and quality of life diminished. What is really needed is to open lands outlying Lihue to residential development at an affordable level.

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