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Hawaii County Planning Updates: Zoning and Land Use

Hawaii County Planning Department updates on the future of short term vacation rental regulation and the online permitting system might seem like the hot news. Zoning and land use seems a bit more arcane, and yet I probably get at least as many calls with questions about zoning as I do about listings or the real estate market. It is likely that big changes are coming to Hawaii zoning and subdivision regulations between now and March 2024. Here is what you need to know and how you can give your opinions during the review process.

large oceanview acreage

What can you do with this large undeveloped acreage? Subdivide? Develop? Do tiny homes? The answers are partly found in the Hawaii County zoning and subdivision codes.

Why Are the Hawaii County Planning and Subdivision Rules Being Updated?

First, let me back up for a moment and remind readers that in Hawaiʻi there are two levels of land use planning and regulation relevant to you as a property owner with a question like “what can I do with my property?” The underlying layer is the state land use designation. For lands designated agricultural, rural or urban, the State in turn delegates land use regulation of  to the counties.

The problem for many seemingly reasonable ideas about land use is that Chapter 25 of the Hawaii County code, dealing with zoning, was last updated in 1996; chapter 23 Subdivisions was last updated in 1983.  Planning Directors issued stacks of “memos” to deal with contemporary issues and views on land use planning but it leaves the underlying codes and rulings riddled with contradictions.

Hawaii County code update timeline

Source: Hawaii County Planning Department

A consulting firm has been hired to lead this county code overhaul. The community will get a chance to share their thoughts through drafting, review, and adoption processes. You can find out more about the Hawaii County code zoning and subdivision updates and sign up to stay informed at this dedicated website.

Updating the Hawaii County General Plan and Community Development Plans

Back in 2019 I wrote in some detail about the draft update to the Hawaii County General Plan. And then came the pandemic, which challenged the status quo thinking and added a sense of urgency to many key issues, from self-sufficiency in food and energy, to the range of solutions for affordable housing for island residents.

The current Planning Director has scrapped the old draft General Plan update, and will begin working on a new General Plan that reflects more modern thinking – in the greater world of land use planning as well as specifically in Hawaiʻi – once the underlying zoning and subdivision codes are updated. That means sometime in 2024.

Loʻi Kalo on Hawaii Island

Hawaiʻi-specific thinking about land use and economic planning includes encouraging traditional agricultural practices, as shown in this loʻi kalo

If you want a glimpse of the Hawaiʻi specific thinking I expect to see reflected in the next General Plan for Hawaiʻi County, you might want to read up on the ʻAina Aloha Economic Futures initiative, which is being reflected in decision making from the state capitol to county planning departments. In my 2020 blog post about AAEF, I also wrote about my experience with the Community Development Planning process. Whether you are a new or long time resident, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in shaping the future of Hawaiʻi. And these are also great ways to connect with and support your local community.

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