State Responds to Farms vs. Homes Conflict

Laura Thielen, DLNR
Laura Thielen, DLNR

WAIMANALO (KHNL) - A land rush in East Oahu has upset farmers looking for land to plant. Even though there are plans for hundreds of homes to go into Waimanalo, the state now says it will also set aside lots for farmers.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources says lawmakers have been tossing this plan around for 30 years. But it's only now, state leaders have the details ready for the legislature.

Under this plan, the Department of Agriculture would establish "no-touch" zones protecting Hawaii's agricultural land, and have design incentives to help farmers survive.

"I think we have enough agricultural land to meet our agricultural needs in Hawaii. The problem is we haven't designated what lands, the "no-touch" lands that have to stay in the agricultural district," says Department of Land and Natural Resources Interim Chair Laura Thielen.

That plan is designed to ease concerns farmers have over losing agricultural lands to housing.

"We feel we are in the dark and we don't want to wake up and turn the light and find that we're surrounded by residential area and housing," says Waimanalo Agricultural Association member Tom Stanton.

Three projects have escalated farmers' worries:

200 homes planned on the Wong farm, 50 homes along Kumuhau Street, plus 50 more on Kakaina Street.

In each case, the Department of Land and Natural Resources transferred ownership of the farmlands to Hawaiian Home Lands.

But Thielen justifies the decisions, such as the transfer of the Kakaina parcel.

"It was an area that was flooded, subject to fire, a lot of drug deals and it made sense to tie it in with the existing DHHL development there," says Thielen.

Thielen says the "no-touch" zoning plan will go before lawmakers when the legislature goes back in session.