(BIVN) – A House bill that would allow tiny houses to be built on Hawaii County ag land is on the governor’s veto list after being passed by the state legislature.
Governor David Ige says he intends to veto House Bill 2 because the “the authority for this action already exists with the county”.
The bill, introduced by Kohala representative Cindy Evans, would authorize tiny homes of less than 500 square feet to be built for farm workers in agricultural districts on the Big Island.
In testimony submitted to state lawmakers, Stephen Shrader of One Island Sustainable Living in Kapa’au said tiny houses “are a great solution for our affordable housing crisis”, and essential to reclaiming Hawaii’s local food system.
“The climate and lifestyle of Hawaii encourages an indoor/outdoor lifestyle,” Shrader wrote. “It is also one of the best settings in the world to implement green building and energy efficient practices. Many farmers are wanting to
down size the scale of their indoor living spaces, lower their cost for housing, be on farm to monitor their crops, lower farmworker rental housing and transportation/commute costs, spend more time farming, and lower the environmental impact of their housing.”
The Hawaii County Council supported it with a resolution, but the Hawaii County planning department opposed it.
“Unfortunately, we see great potential that this provision, should it be adopted, will lead toward unintended abuse of the very agricultural lands we are entrusted to protect by the State Land Use Law and our local zoning code,” planning director Michael Yee wrote in his testimony:
As currently written, this bill will allow “farm workers or their immediate family members” to occupy agricultural land provided that the “farmer” has a business license and is engaged in agriculture.
Anyone can easily obtain a business license and there is no level of specified engagement in agriculture within the bill that would justify a “tiny home”. A person could just obtain a business license, plant and maintain a single tree, and generate no income whatsoever, and would thereby qualify for a tiny home on agricultural land. Secondly, a maximum number of tiny homes to be permitted on any given agricultural lot is not specified. This could potentially turn our precious agricultural lands into affordable housing communities with no clear expectation of any increase in agricultural productivity.
“We do believe that zoning really is a county function and a County issue,” the governor told news reporters during a recent press conference. “The County of Hawaii currently has a process for dwellings on ag property. In fact, the current county rules allow for homes as small as 250 sq ft.”
“So it really is about jurisdiction,” Gov Ige said. “We do have concerns about legislation that is (an) overreach on the state’s part about legislating zoning. Legislating this, we just felt, was not appropriate.”
“I don’t think it’s going to go through this year,” Puna’s State Senator Russell Ruderman told his community during a June 27 talk story in Pahoa. “The mayor and the Planning Department don’t support it and I’ve met with them on this and what they tell me is that they can already do this with the present laws.”
However, the Puna senator is maintaining a positive outlook, based on conversations with county administration. “They’ve promised me that if I have a farmer wants to develop ag worker housing on his farm, they’ll make it easier and make it legitimate. So, they say they have a mechanism to do this and therefore they didn’t want this law on the books.”
The deadline for the governor’s final approval or veto is July 11.