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Proposal right to consider nonconforming structures

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Maui Planning Commission on Feb. 27, 2024.
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Feb. 27, 9 a.m.
County of Maui Service Center
Suite 212A Conference Room

To: Maui Planning Commission
      Kellie Pali, Chair
      Kim Thayer, Vice-Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
           Jonathan Helton, Policy researcher

RE: COMMENTS IN SUPPORT OF ITEM B(1)

Aloha Chair Pali, Vice-Chair Thayer and other members of the Commission,

The Grassroot Institute appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Planning Director’s draft bill that proposes to modify how nonconforming structures and uses can be rebuilt or reinstituted after being destroyed in a natural disaster. In particular, the bill would provide a four-year window during which nonconforming structures and uses could be restored, under certain conditions.

Maui County Code currently requires that any structure that was 50% or more destroyed must be rebuilt under existing zoning codes, with limited exceptions for historic properties and multifamily dwellings. Likewise, nonconforming uses cannot be reinstituted in a structure if they have been discontinued for 12 consecutive months.[1]

However, these standards did not contemplate an event such as the Aug. 8, 2023 wildfires that destroyed Lahaina. As such, the current zoning codes could present a major challenge to residents attempting to rebuild their Lahaina properties as they were before the fires.

For example, restoring Lahaina’s community-focused and walkable town center will not be possible without zoning changes such as the ones proposed in this bill.

After Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai in 1992, the Kauai County Council adopted an ordinance similar to this bill to foster the reconstruction of old, nonconforming structures.[2]

The Institute believes this bill would move the county in the right direction, but we question whether the four-year window would be enough time.

As it deliberates this matter, the Commission should seek input from county and community leaders as to whether this deadline is reasonable.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer our comments.

Jonathan Helton

Policy researcher
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
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[1] Kate Blystone, “A Bill For an Ordinance Amending Section 19.500.110, Maui County Code, Regarding Nonconformities,” Memo to the Maui, Molokai and Lanai Planning Commissions, Feb. 21, 2024.
[2]Iniki exceptions OK’d by Council,” Honolulu Advertiser, Feb. 11, 1993.

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