Planning Commission moves forward on Ag land use bill

Planning Commission moves forward on Ag land use bill

LIHU‘E — A bill to amend the county’s zoning ordinances related to commercial uses on agriculturally-zoned land has moved through the Planning Commission and is headed back to the County Council.

Originally proposed by Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro in September, the proposed bill intends to encourage and increase money-generating activities on agricultural lands and increase sources of food security in the community by amending the county’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.

The Planning Department’s recommended draft bill contains new definitions for an agricultural stand, a botanical garden, a farmers’ market, places for food processing and packing of agricultural products, restaurant and food services and a zoological garden, which are not currently defined within the county’s CZO.

The draft bill also suggests to “outright permit” agricultural retail stands, which is now defined as a building or structure less than 1,000 square feet to sell agricultural products from the property or associated farms. The outright permitting would also be extended to food-processing and packaging of agricultural products.

Les Drent, of LBD Coffee in Kapa‘a, brought a climactic testimony to the commission Tuesday morning. For years, Drent and his company have been trying to sell products from various farms on their agriculturally-zoned land.

“We’ve been farming on Kaua‘i for quite some time, a couple decades now, and all I can say to this is that it takes a crisis, right?” Drent said. “After 18 years of being denied by the County of Kaua‘i government, it appears that the local overlords are finally going to allow farmers the right to retail their value-added, Hawai‘i-grown products from their farms.”

Back in 2003, the company was permitted for a retail area in a farm building, but were then told they could not sell anything as part of an oversight.

“The issue of agricultural retail on farmland, operated by real farmers, has been circulating for two decades now,” Drent said.

In 2012, a state law that allows farmers to sell value-added products from an enclosed structure on their agricultural land went into effect in an effort to encourage agriculture-related commercial growth. This law gave counties the right to define further how to regulate and enforce county zoning ordinances. Kaua‘i did not adopt an ordinance under this law.

In 2014, LBD filed for a permit to sell cigars and coffee within an enclosed structure on their land. Then, three years after that, still without the permit, the company filed a declaratory judgment to get the county to bring the matter before the Planning Commission.

LBD eventually filed for a use-permit for an agriculture retail stand. The Planning Commission put 11 conditions on the use permit, Drent said.

“This condition would prevent LBD from selling any agricultural products … that does not either grow and or manufacture that product from the permitted farm,” Drent said. “This condition was completely nonsensical, as we have numerous farms we either own or lease for crop production.”

The latest draft of the bill would allow farmers to sell products from “associated farms.”

Drent suggested some of the obstacles have been no-0farming neighbors who oppose the activity and “a Planning Department who has been dead-set against allowing us to sell our Hawai‘i-grown, value-added products.”

Drent further suggested the Planning Department’s land-use and permitting has “reeked of nepotism, cronyism and favoritism.”

“If this COVID-19 crisis, which is expected to end the summer, brings any meaningful change in allowing farmers to retail their value-added products, then so be it,” Drent said. “But the damage this county has done to us and many others in the last two decades will not be forgotten, nor dismissed, by your knee-jerk reaction to agricultural retail under the guise of getting food to the people.”

Following the testimony, commissioners discussed with Planning Department Director Ka‘aina Hull about enforcement measures, specifically to ensure farmers were selling their own goods.

“It’s not going to be easy from an implementation standpoint … from the department’s position at least, (but) it’s an attempt to, to provide that venue for farmers and their operations, which they haven’t had before,” Hull said.

With the bill’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission on Tuesday, the bill will be put on a County Council agenda as a proposed draft bill for first reading in the future.

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Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or sbodon@thegardenisland.com.


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