Testimony re: SB137 — Relating to land use

The following is testimony that was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii on Jan. 29, 2021, for consideration by the Hawaii Senate Committee on Water and Land.

To: Senate Committee on Water and Land
Sen. Lorraine R. Inouye, Chair
Sen. Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Joe Kent, Executive Vice President


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Committee Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on SB137, which would change existing restrictions on the authority of the counties to amend district boundaries. 

Under this bill, county decision-making officials would be permitted to amend district boundaries for properties greater than 15 acres, except “non-important” agricultural land or rural land areas greater than 15 acres but not more than 25 acres, if they are proposed for reclassification to the urban district and at least 60% will be dedicated to development of so-called affordable housing.

In raising the acreage cutoff to 25 acres, SB137 would make an important stride toward streamlining the decision-making process and encouraging the growth of the housing pool in our state. 

However, the bill includes an unnecessary limitation, namely, the requirement that this special consideration will only be given for proposals where 60% of the land will be dedicated to the development of affordable housing.

While well-intentioned, that additional limitation may frustrate the intent of the bill by creating another regulatory roadblock to the increase of the housing supply. There are ways to encourage the growth of affordable housing that won’t hobble development before it even begins. We urge you to remove the 60% requirement and focus first on reforming the state Land Use Commission and streamlining the development process.

That said, this committee should be commended for addressing one of the root causes of the state’s housing crisis: the excess of regulation and bureaucracy that can delay and frustrate development. A recent Grassroot Institute report on the problem, “Reform the Hawaii LUC to encourage more housing,” discussed how state policymakers could encourage the growth of housing by reexamining the role and purpose of the LUC.

The report included two recommendations that relate directly to the intent of SB137: raising the acreage cutoff for LUC review of district boundary amendment requests; and allowing the counties to handle all DBAs for urban and agricultural lands, leaving the LUC free to focus on statewide environmental issues and DBAs of conservation lands.

Enacting bill SB137, without the unnecessary limitation, would go part of the way toward achieving those recommendations.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.


Joe Kent
Executive Vice President
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

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