Big Island

So You Want to Build a Retreat Center on the Big Island

Some call the Big Island of Hawai’i “the Healing Island.” It is not surprising that when I have larger acreage properties for sale, I encounter prospective buyers with a dream of building a retreat or healing center, especially in magical North Kohala. The bottom line however, is that getting the permits to create a center with overnight accommodations on ag-zoned land is increasingly unlikely. That’s why my new listing that has such a special use permit is an important opportunity.

Hawaii Insight Meditation Center permit

Imagine a retreat center taking shape where this temporary tent now stands on over 80 acres

Rules for Overnight Accommodations on Agricultural Land – Corporate or Healing Retreat, Bed-and-Breakfast, Inn

Along Alii Drive in Kailua Kona there are properties for sale on land zoned “hotel/resort.” For example, there is an oceanfront property being marketed as a potential “surf retreat,” asking $4.5 million for under an acre with a home so run down the listing only features photos of the ocean (MLS# 270659).

Once you start looking at more private options (typically buyers ask about South Kona, North Kohala, or the Hamakua Coast), whether homes on acreage or just beautiful vacant land to build on, you are most likely looking at a property whose zoning is in an Agricultural District. Chapter 25 of the Hawaii County Code is your best friend when it comes to researching “what can I do with this property I am buying?”

6 bedroom oceanfront retreat property

Oceanfront home being marketed as “Private/Corporate Vacation Retreat” for $6.5 million (MLS# 270779)

The Hawai’i County zoning code doesn’t say you can’t have more than one dwelling on ag-zoned land. Nor does it say you can’t rent. What it does say is in order to have a Bed-and-Breakfast, guest ranch, lodge, or essentially any accommodations other than a single family residence and additional farm worker dwellings, a special permit is required.

How to Get a Special Permit

Ag land for sale North Kohala

The part of the ag-zoned parcel not in the approved special permit area must have an ag plan

Now that you know you need a special permit if you plan to rent rooms at your retreat center, what do you need to do in order to get one? If you are serious, I would recommend hiring a planner and/or attorney familiar with the process. But before you do that, let me give you two additional cautions.

First, in addition to zoning, which the counties regulate, each parcel falls into one of four categories designated by the State Land Use Commission. Oddly enough, a law was passed last year allowing overnight accommodations on agricultural land only in Maui county. The State LUC currently contends that the counties should never have been granting these special permits.

A second caution pertains to North Kohala, my home base. Each of the Big Island’s nine districts has a Community Development Plan to guided County Planning Dept decisions. The North Kohala Community Development Plan updated and adopted in 2008, specifically noted concern over the number of special permits already granted for “retreats” allowing overnight visitors on ag land. The NKCDP says “community sentiment is generally that Special Permits that allow large-scale overnight accommodations should not be approved, due to the negative impacts that such developments have on the area’s limited infrastructure and small-town feel.”

Therefore my advice to prospective buyers is that the few properties with approved, open special permits are golden gems. Of the existing special permits in North Kohala mentioned in the CDP, the Hawaii Island Retreat boutique eco-hotel is open and operating. The Kohala Institute at Iole is renovating its historic Girls School with plans to offer experiential learning retreats, primarily to local students, by the end of 2015. A 29-acre property I sold in 2012 had a permit for a youth camp that the new owners chose to let lapse.

That means the one property on the market with a valid special permit for meditation/retreat center is your best and possibly only option rather than starting from scratch in an environment where the public and County will likely oppose new applications.

Special Permit for Meditation Center Approved for 15 Acres of 80+acres for Sale

Hawaii Insight Meditation Center parcels for sale

Depending on your budget and objectives, you could buy only the 82-acre parcel (Lot 4) which has the special permit for $1,675,000 (MLS# 273949), or you could expand your holdings for $4,840,000 to include four adjacent parcels totally 204 acres (MLS# 273951)…or even add in the 50-acre oceanfront parcel for an additional $3.5 million (MLS# 273948).

Although the special permit runs with the land, any new owner would have to meet the existing deadlines (final plan approved by the County in 2015, construction complete by 2018), and the buildings, planned use, and agricultural plan for the rest of the property would need to substantially comply with the terms of the approved application.

If this sounds like something of interest to you, contact me for more details.

A hui hou,

Beth Thoma Robinson, R(B)
Direct: 808.443.4588

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Manu Neho

March 22, 2019

Tena koe Beth and greetings from New Zealand.

We have a healing centre here in Roturua New Zealand. We are looking to purchase a property on Maui with a view to having a second centre in the northern hemisphere.

Given the article, I have just read concerns the big island, are there implications the same for Maui? I would be grateful for any information you might have.

kind regards

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