Sunday, April 13, 2014


PLANT YOUR CLEAN-HANDS MANSION HERE: An article by investigative reporter Rob Perez in today's pay-walled Honolulu Star-Bulletin points in many ways to what's going on in the Kapa`a-Kealia-Anahola-Waipake-Lepa`uli (Larsen's)-Kilauea corridor on Kaua`i as it relates to the development of mansions-for-the-rich in agricultural subdivisions and "condominiumized" ag lands by Larry Bowman's Falco Partners as well as developers Jeff Lindner, Tom McCloskey and other more silent ag land owners.

Indications are that they are using "new and improved" combinations of loopholes, such as some being used in Kunia on O`ahu to build more "gentleman's estates."

Though the prime methods of building secret mansions that Perez pointed to have become more and more difficult to hide on Kaua`i recently, the dodgy nature surrounding the layers of state and county regulations, many containing built-in exemptions, are spurring a new generation of agricultural land development devised by land use attorneys who have worked hard to create the confusion and loopholes in the first place.

Though of course the destruction of the bank of agricultural lands through the building of luxury homes is nothing new, especially on Kaua`i, recently we've seen ads soliciting people to farm relatively minuscule plots of the lands apparently, our sources say, so that they can sell multi-million dollar mansions on the lion's share of the land, as indicated by recent announcements of the availability of small farming plots in the area.

The way it apparently works is that they divide up huge plots of land for McMansions for wealthy mainlanders then segregate a very small portion of land as far away from the estates as possible and find people to farm it, often soliciting for "organic" farms so as to distract and placate the members of the "sustainability" movement.

While the article seems to indicate our planning director Mike Dahilig- misidentified in the article as Vahilig- convinced Perez essentially that "there's nothing to see here- go back to your cramped apartments and clapboard homes," it appears that either Dahilig is narrowing his pish-poshing to the one 2012 loophole primarily cited in the article.

That or that perhaps Falco and the others have used teams of skilled attorneys to put together packages of loopholes to put up their multi-million-dollar "farm dwellings" while minimally fulfilling their obligation to do some actual farming beyond the current practice of putting in a few fruit trees or grazing a couple of horses or the like.

Although the specifics of the Kunia situation is different, many of the surrounding principles and loopholes are being applied here. The challenges of lack of access to the lands for inspectors is one that is compounded on Kaua`i by our complaint-driven system of inspections and lack of inspectors- in addition to notorious corruption in the buildings division.

That has meant that if you don't apply for a permit and no one can see the house and no one complains... well you get the picture.

That cat and mouse game- with plenty of cheese and kibble spread around for everyone involved- has worked well in the past. But with GPS and drone surveillance (and maybe inspectors willing to sneak onto the land and look for more than rice-cookers) it's going to be harder and harder to get away with "farm dwellings" that are essential "secret mansions."

We admit to seeing lots of external signs and not really being able to connect all the dots... yet. But it's worth a mention today because there are enough of them to start forming a definite picture of the final nail in the coffin of a sustainable small farm future for Kaua`i- one that makes the out-front chemical company plans to "seed" the end of clean environmentally-responsible farming seem half-assed.

We'll be following this story in the near future. Don't fail to contact us gotwindmills (at) if you have any "inside" information.

Here's an excerpt from Perez's article.


A building concern; Kunia farm structures may be prohibited homes

By Rob Perez

At least 10 structures that look like houses have been built on leased farmland in Kunia without the normal inspections that come with most construction projects and despite a state law prohibiting homes on such land.

One of the biggest buildings apparently is a Buddhist temple. Several other structures have second-floor windows and balconies offering sweeping ocean views features not typically found in barns or storage sheds.

The ability of owners to erect such structures free of normal regulatory oversight and in a remote agricultural subdivision unconnected to power, water, telephone and sewer lines has exposed a gap in the code enforcement system on Oahu and generated concern among some in the farming industry.
Even though a complaint was filed with the city in June alleging that unauthorized residences some with up to four bedrooms had been built at Kunia Loa Ridge Farmlands, the city took no action on that issue.

Because of a 2012 state law that exempts certain structures from building permit requirements, the city did not have the authority to enter the Kunia Loa structures, and without being able to do so, was unable to prove that they were being used as residences even if they looked like houses from the outside, according to a spokesman for the city Department of Planning and Permitting, the agency that issues building permits and investigates complaints.

The department did cite four lessees for violating an ordinance prohibiting the storing of industrial equipment on agricultural land. The equipment was seen when an inspector went to the subdivision to investigate the complaint.

The 2012 exemption law, widely supported by the agriculture industry, was designed to free farmers and ranchers from the time-consuming, costly process of obtaining building permits for small agricultural-related buildings, such as tool sheds. The idea behind the law versions of which are found in the majority of other states was to help farmers and ranchers better compete with imported food suppliers.

The permit exemption applies only to nonresidential structures constructed on commercial farms or ranches as long as certain conditions are met, such as the floor space is no more than 1,000 square feet, the land is outside the urban district, and the building is essential to the agricultural operation.
But the law has created some confusion and enforcement challenges.

Even if permitting department officials suspect a residential dwelling has been constructed on farmland by an owner claiming the exemption, they say they lack the authority to enter the structure to prove it.
"Enforcing building and zoning laws on agricultural land is difficult enough, but exempting certain structures from the building permit process makes it even more difficult and frustrating because the building permit is our enforcement tool," DPP Deputy Director Art Challacombe said in a written statement to the Star-Advertiser.

The law has prompted some property owners on Kauai to try to sneak proposed dwellings through the review process by calling them something other than a residence.

"People are trying to disguise houses as packing facilities," said Mike Vahilig, Kauai's planning director, estimating his office has seen five to 10 such cases over the past year.

In attempting the ruse, garagelike space has been labeled as packing floors, bedrooms as offices, and the kitchen as something else, Vahilig said.

Even though the property owners claimed the exemption, the county was able to block the proposed projects by denying a zoning permit, a separate approval needed before construction can start, according to Vahilig.

If Kauai didn't have that separate process, the owners would have been able to build the homes, he added....

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