WAILUKU - The County Council Planning Committee is looking favorably at tweaking the agricultural zoning law to adjust the law on walls in the setback area.
The front setback on 2-acre and larger ag lots is 25 feet. Walls over 4 feet high are not allowed, which has created a problem in Launiupoko. And there may be several other areas where owners are not in compliance.
Launiupoko resident Jim Whitehead has been begging for relief for two years, following what he described as a sweep to catch violators. Testifying Monday, Kathleen Aoki, former planning director, denied any vindictive sweep.
At the time, county zoning enforcement was complaint-driven but anonymous. Whitehead suggested that a neighbor who was denied a wall permit turned in neighbors, some of whom had had walls up for years.
In residential zones, walls can be 6 feet high. According to Aoki and current Planning Director Will Spence, the 1998 revision of the ag zoning ordinance responded to gripes about high walls along shoreline lots in Makena.
Then-Planning Director David Blane told the 1998 council, "I don't think this is the type of feeling we want in our rural communities."
It was not purely a matter of view planes, because nothing stops a homeowner from growing a high hedge. He was referring to the look of high walls that caused the complaints.
About that time or a little later, the developer of 4-, 5- and 10-acre ag lots on former Pioneer Mill lands at Launiupoko wanted to save some money by putting utility pedestals close to the roads. Maui Electric charges by the foot to run lines into a lot. There are claims that the walls had to be built 6 feet high for the pedestals.
But, as far as the county could determine, MECO never had a requirement that meters be on pedestals at least 6 feet high, although it did recommend locating the meter face at 5-and-a-half feet high, for the convenience of meter readers.
An additional complication is that locating the meter lower could, in some cases, expose it to moisture.
Whitehead, a retired contractor, pointed out that the county building department signed off on permits that violated the zoning ordinance. He said that as a contractor, he had never had to consider anything but building codes, as the lot owner always (or at least, usually) delivered to building contractors a suitable lot that already met zoning requirements.
Council Member Danny Mateo said he was sympathetic to the subsequent owners, who apparently were not a party to any agreement between the lot developer and MECO. MECO did not have a representative to testify to the committee Monday.
Several committee members said they were ready to consider adjusting the ag wall standards.
In some steep areas, like Whitehead's neighborhood, even 6-foot-high walls would not have any effect on view planes. The 4-foot standard was devised for automobile drivers, who can generally see over a wall that high.
If the full council does propose adjustments later, the proposal would have to go to the three planning commissions for review and recommendations before a zoning ordinance could be changed.
In the meantime, some owners have removed or lowered their walls. Whitehead said he did that, under the threat of $1,000-a-day fines, and it cost him $11,000. Others have appealed to the Board of Variances and Appeals, some with success, some not.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.