Among his recent proposals for Urban and Rural Growth Boundaries in the proposed Maui Island Plan, Maui County Planning Director Will Spence caused a stir Upcountry because he proposed changing certain agricultural subdivisions to rural classification in the plan.
During a recent County Council General Plan Committee meeting on this subject, Spence was accused of making up this proposal out of thin air, and it was suggested that his real plan was to cause the effective urbanization of some existing agricultural neighborhoods.
The confusion was understandable because the distinction between ag and rural is unclear to most folks. If you say rural in Maui County, most people immediately think of a half-acre because, for the longest time, that was the minimum lot size allowed under rural zoning in our county. There are now also 1-, 2-, 5- and 10-acre rural zoning categories.
In his proposal, Spence clearly stated that his intention would be to shift 2-acre agricultural lots to 2-acre rural classification, changing the underlining legal classification but nothing else. There would be no change in density, ambiance, the number of people allowed, traffic, etc.
You would not have known that from some of the materials that were generated by the opposition to Spence's proposal, which declared in effect that massive subdivisions are on the horizon for Kula. That confusion was partially caused by the fact that some agricultural property owners did ask the council to allow them to subdivide their properties to half-acre rural so that they could share their properties with their children. What they are asking for and what Spence proposed are two different things.
Spence also did not make up this ag-to-rural concept. In 2005, the state Legislature passed Act 205 (which is further confused by the fact that it amended HRS 205), which called for the counties to start working toward reclassifying lands currently zoned state agricultural but which are really rural in nature, like the many agricultural subdivisions that currently populate Haiku, Makawao, Kula and parts of West Maui.
The Realtors Association of Maui has been an active proponent of that proposal since it passed. RAM agrees with the intent of the Legislature that the counties need to identify their Important Agricultural Lands and also to reclassify lands that are no longer effectively agricultural to rural use. We believe that change should happen without any change in density allowed.
It is important to note that the Maui Farm Bureau supports this position as well.
Here's why RAM takes this position:
* The majority of ag subdivision properties are not now and will never be true farms. They are too small to be productive enough to be the owner's main occupation. Their owners, for the most part, bought them for lifestyle, not economic purposes.
* Because these properties fall under state rules - and not Maui County codes - that require all farm land be farmed, our county is left with the responsibility of forcing owners to farm, even if that results in the creation of fake farms. Because there are more than a thousand of these properties in Maui County, performing that enforcement function requires a big expenditure of tax dollars, time and effort. For what? To force someone to conduct an economic activity that won't make them any money. Farming is an allowed use in rural, but under rural it would be a choice, not a requirement.
* Because these properties fall under state law, they are also subject to amendments in those laws by a Legislature that is dominated by Honolulu residents. Maui has nine representatives and senators. The other 67 legislators have no clue about the nature of our rural district and the potential impacts their great ideas to save agriculture could have in our county. We successfully staved off some truly potentially harmful proposals in the past, but that does not mean we will always be so successful. We believe that these properties would be safer under a jurisdiction controlled by Maui County - rural.
RAM believes that Mr. Spence's proposal deserves serious consideration.
* Dave DeLeon is the government affairs director of the Realtors Association of Maui.