Ag-land rule changes allow flexibility

Water, roads, ohana sizes also topics at Kula meeting

Michele McLean, Department of Planning director, discusses new rules for the Maui County agricultural district at the Kula Community Association meeting Wednesday night, which drew more than 100 people. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

KULA — Help is on the horizon for agricultural landowners in Maui County, with recent changes to Planning Department farm plan requirements and a likely proposal to boost the size of a second farm dwelling.

Planning Director Michele McLean said Wednesday that her department is considering drafting a proposal to increase the size of a second farm dwelling, often called an ohana, from 1,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet. The move comes on the heels of a council decision late last year to adopt a bill that allows more and larger ohanas in residential districts.

“I was asked many times when we are going to do that for ag — that is a change there seems to be a lot of support for,” she said.

“We would want that to go through quickly,” she added, saying that the department wanted to keep the proposal simple for quick passage.

McLean, Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, Water Director Jeff Pearson, Transportation Deputy Director Michael DuPont, along with state Department of Transportation Maui District engineer Robin Shishido and Maui Tomorrow’s Albert Perez, spoke on land, water and road issues Wednesday night during the Kula Community Association meeting. The event drew more than 100 residents to the Kula Community Center.

Yuki Lei Sugimura

“I think we’re making headway,” said attendee Richard Sain of Makawao. “The meeting was good — it’s raising awareness.”

During the talk, the Department of Planning said it made a recent switch in ag land administration to focus on assisting farmers instead of curtailing abusers.

Departmental rules for the county’s ag district used to require that landowners record a farm plan with the state Bureau of Conveyances. This didn’t allow for flexibility to change crops, agricultural use, livestock or move things from one part of the property to the other, local farmers said.

Now, a signed declaration of ag district rules will replace the farm plan for most ag-zoned lots. The rules took effect at the start of the year, but many residents don’t know about the changes, according to McLean.

“We were really focused on the abusers and trying to curb the abuse,” McLean said. “We would swing back and forth between making it easier for farmers versus controlling the abusers. In the end, we all agreed we wanted to make it easier for farmers. That was a higher priority than curbing the abuse.”

Farm plans were intended to demonstrate that the primary, or principle, use of the property is in agriculture, McLean said.

Lots in ag districts must still have 50 percent or more of the property in agriculture or be subject to fines. However, the signed declaration form, which is then filed with the Department of Planning, will now suffice.

“We created and adopted these rules that said you don’t have create a farm plan anymore. Instead, you simply come in and sign a declaration that says, ‘I understand these are what the rules are for the ag district, and I will comply with these requirements and I understand the enforcement penalties if I don’t,’ “ she said at the meeting. “Then if we come out and enforce because we see a violation, there’s not the excuse to say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know.’ “

Farm plans are still required by the department for commercial agriculture structures, bed-and-breakfast homes and short-term rental homes in the ag district, McLean said, noting that they don’t have to be filed with the Bureau of Conveyances.

When considering what can and can’t be done on agricultural land, one must research various designations, including county zoning, community plan, state designation and the Maui Island Plan, McLean said. On ag land, however, the rules are pretty consistent, she said.

If landowners have questions, Maui County Code rules can be accessed online at library.municode.com/hi/county_of_maui/codes/code_of_ordinances.

During the meeting, Pearson also detailed the status of House Bill 1326, the controversial water rights bill, as well as the East Maui Irrigation system and how the failure of the bill in the state Legislature impacts water collection for Upcountry residents. The county is working to ensure water is uninterrupted once the current permit that EMI uses expires.

Sugimura added that with the concerns over the bill, the council put $200,000 into the fiscal year 2020 budget so that the Water Supply Department “could study water sources to get us ready if we do have a drought situation.”

Perez said he believes water from East Maui will continue to flow through Wailoa’s ditch system to Kamole treatment plant for Upcountry use because “the Wailoa ditch system can’t be turned off.”

Meanwhile, Shishido offered an update on DOT projects, including a video feed of major intersections on Maui and real travel times that the DOT plans to put on its website by the end of the summer. Also, Kula Highway striping was finished recently, and a guardrail improvement project for Kula areas are coming soon. However, Shishido said the traffic signal at Omaopio Road is not looking likely because it doesn’t meet volume demand and other criteria.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.