The Future of Hawaiʻi County (Big Island) – Draft General Plan 2045

Remember 2019? Before the world changed? Before the Covid-19 pandemic, before the August 2023 wildfires? Back in September 2019, I wrote a blog post entitled Hawaii County General Plan – Shaping the Big Islandʻs Future. It probably goes without saying that the draft of the General Plan I reported on four years was scrapped. A new, revised draft General Plan was just released to the public last week for community input and review. The Draft General Plan 2045 has a different planning framework, reflects lessons learned in recent years, and still has many of the same goals and proposals.

hawaii county general plan

Illustration of the Hawaii County Planning Framework. Source: County of Hawaii Planning Department

As I said in the 2019, post: Why should you care? If you live on the island, own property on the Big Island, or are considering owning here, some aspect of the planning process will touch your life…even if itʻs just the worsening traffic and the cost of electricity! Many of the topics of my blog posts, from Short Term Vacation Rentals to the Building Permit Process and even whether you can build a retreat center, are covered in the County Code and General Plan.

General Plan 2045: Focus on Resilience, Sustainability and ʻAina Stewardship

windmills by the ocean on hawaii island

Wind energy can contribute to goals of carbon neutrality and sustainable energy goals and provide jobs for local residents

Here is a link to read (and comment on) the draft Hawaiʻi County General Plan 2045.

And here is what to expect.

In the previous plan, the organizational framework was: natural resource planning; infrastructure planning; land use planning; economic opportunity planning; and the awkwardly named “community placemaking planning,” The new General Plan seems to be more focused on outcomes instead of planning.

It begins with an entire section devoted to Climate Change — the goal of which is stated as  “We ensure a just transition to a climate resilient island by addressing the causes and impacts of climate change through incorporating equitable climate mitigation and adaptation priorities into policies, programs, infrastructure, and decision-making.” The rest of the General Plan is organized around thirteen specific goals under four general headings:

  • Healthy, Safe and Resilient Community
  • Sustainable and Responsible Development
  • Thriving, Diverse and Regenerative Economy
  • Collaborative Cultural and Environmental Stewardship
  • Efficient, Equitable, and Integrated Government

Of course the Big Island biocultural stewardship goals are important foundations for my work as Hawaiʻi Lifeʻs Director of Conservation and Legacy Lands. I was pleased to see that one of the specifically named sections to be incorporated into future district Community Development Plans (see the chart above) is properties for nomination to the County Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Preservation Program (PONC).

Language from the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Futures initiative has made its way into Hawaiʻi County planning process, with a lot more focus on topics like resilience for our communities, regenerative economic development including in the hospitality sector, community-led resource management and stewardship, and equitable outcomes in policy implementation.

When we wrote our North Kohala Community Development Plan enacted in 2008, hundreds of community generated ideas for protecting culture and history, education, and health and wellness were absent from the CDP because there was not a corresponding section in the General Plan. The draft General Plan 2045 address all of these issues of importance to our communities.

Opportunities to Learn More and Comment on the Hawaiʻi County General Plan 2045

Support for diversified local agriculture contributing to employment and food security is a goal of the Hawaiʻi County General Plan.

The County has made it super easy for residents to comment on the draft General Plan right down to the paragraph or phrase. Any resident can do so by going to the website, and again that link is here.

In addition there are public information sessions coming up starting this weekend:

  • September 30, 2023, at the West Hawaiʻi Civic Center, Building A from 2-4 pm
  • October 7, 2023, at Auntie Sally’s Lūʻau Hale from 1:30-3:30 pm

Whether you are a current resident, an intended resident, or just curious about planning issues for the Big Island, you can register to receive updates from the County Planning Department (not only about the General Plan) through this link.

There is a lot more in the 212 pages of the draft that has specific implications for commonly asked Big Island real estate questions — zoning changes, transient accommodation rentals, cesspool conversion options to name a few. Rather than list all of them here, I will try to point to the General Plan wherever appropriate in as I write about individual topics. While there is no crystal ball to predict future zoning and ordinance changes, this General Plan will set the tone for the next two decades. That makes it worth at least skimming to get a feel for how the Big Island government and communities intends to navigate to the future while preserving what makes this place so special.

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