Exemption Please

Planning Commission asks for Molokai exemption from new county laws

By Dan Murphy

It’s not often that everyone at a Molokai Planning Commission (MoPC) meeting is in agreement. But when the Maui County Council proposed two bills that would potentially increase population density on Molokai, the response was a resounding ‘No thanks.’

One bill would make it easier to change land zoning from agricultural to residential. The other would lower the acreage requirement to build an ohana house, allowing more people to live per acre. Joe Alueta, an administrative planning officer for the county of Maui explained the reason for the proposed changes along with their pros and cons.  

“Basically the county is giving you a tool that could be used at your discretion in the future. It is a tool that should be used sparingly if at all,” Alueta said.

Keeping it Rural
The tool would allow for land designated as rural to be subdivided into lots of two, five and ten acre minimums. The current law only allows one acre and half-acre minimums. The land could then potentially be re-zoned to urban residential at some point in the future.

Alueta said the new ordinance was created mostly for “fake farms” on Maui. Farm dwellings are built on agricultural land, which by law means the occupants must use a portion of the acreage for farming. The new law would allow these larger estates to keep the same acreage while being rezoned to rural so they are no longer required to farm – something that very few owners do anyway.  

MoPC and public testifiers were wary of making it easy to get rid of agricultural land and divide the island into small parcels.

“This bill looks me to like Pandora’s box,” said Molokai resident James Berg. “We’re opening up a can of worms that could have devastating results on this island.”

The Commissioners voted unanimously to ask the county council to exempt Molokai from these new rules if the bill does pass.

No Room for More
The second ordinance in question would add two amendments that would make it easier to build small ohana houses in residential areas.

County law currently allows residents with lots of 7,500 square feet or more to build guesthouses known as “accessory dwellings.” The amendment would lower the acreage requirement to allow people with a 6,000 square foot lot to build a small ohana house on their property.

The small dwelling would have to be used by either a direct relative or a low income tenant. Only those who make 140 percent or less than the median income would be allow to rent the ohana dwellings.

The amendment also establishes limits on the cost of rent. As the renter’s income goes up, so does the rent that can be charged . This encourages owners to seek tenants with the highest income possible and goes against the plan to create more affordable housing for those who need it most.

“There’s no way anybody is going to get inexpensive housing out of this and we just don’t have the facilities to support it,” Commissioner John Sprinzel said.

The Commission agreed that allowing more people to live per acre didn’t fit for Molokai.

“These are already pretty small lots and packing people in like sardines is not what we are looking to do on this island,” Vice-chair Steve Chaikin said.

The Commission once again voted that while this bill may be helpful on Maui, Molokai was best left out. They recommended that the county council exempt Molokai from these amendments if they do go through for the county.

Alueta said the council would make a decision on both ordinances after hearing the recommendations made by MoPC and the county’s other Planning Commissions.


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