Pass SB2018 to avoid loss of density due to ‘downzoning’

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Senate Committee on Judiciary on Feb. 28, 2024.

Feb. 28, 2024, 10 a.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 016 and Videoconference

To: Senate Committee on Judiciary
      Sen. Karl Rhoads, Chair
      Sen. Mike Gabbard, Vice-Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
           Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Aloha Chair Rhoads, Vice-Chair Gabbard and Committee Members,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its support for SB2018, which would prohibit the counties from reducing the allowable density of a parcel or zoning district unless the county also enacts measures to ensure there is no net loss in allowable residential density throughout the county.

Basically, SB2018 would prevent counties from exacerbating the housing crisis. When a county changes a zoning ordinance to reduce the amount of housing that is allowed in a certain zone, it reduces the potential housing supply.

These sorts of “downzonings” have occurred in the past. For example, in 1973, Honolulu lowered the density of a parcel zoned for apartment use and the owner sued in response.[1]

More recently, some iterations of Honolulu’s land-use reform bill included downzoning provisions. One draft would have limited the lot area of farm dwellings beyond the current limitations in the city code.[2]

That particular draft of Honolulu’s land-use reform bill would likely have qualified under the balanced approach of SB2018, as it included several amendments to increase the housing stock. However, a state law would ensure that the housing supply is protected from future downzoning.

SB2018 would not strip the counties of the power to downzone entirely. But it would maintain a balance by allowing them to downzone a parcel or a zoning classification only if they upzone another area of land so as to retain or increase the total allowable housing in the county.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] David Callies, “Land Use: Herein of Vested Rights, Plans, and the Relationship of Planning and Controls,” University of Hawai’i Law Review, 1979, pp. 171-172.
[2] See Bill 10 (2022), CD1, p. 21; Revised Ordinances of Honolulu, § 21-5.250 Farm dwellings., accessed Jan. 20, 2024.

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