Monday, December 17, 2007

West Maui Development Moratorium Bill Scheduled for Hearing on December 18, 2007

Councilmember Johnson introduced a moratorium on development for West Maui agricultural land (e.g., Lahaina and Ka’anapali) until such time as the West Maui community plan is enacted. As I discussed in Maui County Council Invokes the "M" Word, moratoriums are blunt instruments that dance on the edge of legality.

In the October 22, 2007 draft, “development” is defined as subdivision, discretionary approvals under the zoning code, and building permits. The bill exempts Hawaiian Homes projects and affordable housing projects.

There are a few weaknesses in the bill besides the nature of moratoriums. First, Hawaiian Homes are generally exempt from most local zoning, so that’s not a surprise, but why exempt affordable housing projects? Affordable housing projects have the same effect on the cited concerns in the bill including impacts on traffic, water, and the environment. In fact, affordable housing projects may have a greater impact since those projects tend to be denser, multi-family projects.

Second, the bill prohibits development on agricultural lands, which are defined as lands zoned agriculture in the County of Maui. Sure, there are landowners who brave the tedious requirements implicit in an agricultural subdivision, but most landowners take the safer route and have the property reclassified as state urban first, then seek rezoning. In those circumstances, the improvements would not occur on agricultural land. Granted, zoning ultimately lies with the county council; however, it would have no legally permissible reason to deny zoning to a project with conditions if it were reclassified as state urban.

Thrid, the moratorium would end with passage of the community plan, which has already suffered from delay. There is no telling when the community plan will be enacted. That uncertainty could have a negative impact on land values in West Maui which already is, or soon will be, suffering the downward swing in the real estate market and the impending recession.

The Maui moratorium bill was forwarded to the Council Planning Committee under County Communication No. 07-299, item number PC-27. It is scheduled for a committee vote on December 18, 2007. The committee may recommend passage with or without revisions.

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