Land Use Division
To “preserve, protect and encourage the development of the lands in the State for those uses to which they are best suited for the public welfare.” See L. 1961, c 187, § 1.
The Office of Planning is required to appear before the State Land Use Commission to represent the state’s interests in matters related to District Boundary Amendments, Special Permits, and Important Agricultural Lands (IAL). The Commission relies heavily on the position of the parties in matters before it, including that of the county and the Office of Planning. The Office’s position in these matters is significantly affected by the petitioner’s implementation of one or more of the applicable resources at the end of this page; consultation with affected state agencies regarding impacts of a proposed project; and documentation of agreed to mitigation with the affected state agencies regarding state resources. We encourage early consultation with our office to discuss how the petitioner will meet these objectives.
Land use matters that involve the Office of Planning, include the following:
Petitions for District Boundary Amendments. All land in the State is divided into four state district boundaries: urban, rural, agricultural, and conservation. According the Hawaii Data Book, there is an approximate total of 4,112,388 acres of land in the State of Hawaii, of which about 48 percent is designated as conservation, 47 percent is designated as agricultural, 5 percent is designated as urban, and less and 1/2 percent is designated as rural. With just 5 percent of state lands urbanized, landowner’s first land use entitlement for commercial, industrial, residential, resort, and myriad other development is generally a district boundary amendment.
The county in which the property is located and the Office of Planning are required parties in these petitions, along with the petitioner/landowner. In this role, the Office coordinates with local and state agencies to develop a state position regarding the boundary amendment.
The Office of Planning evaluates whether the project meets the land use commission decision-making criteria (HRS § 205-17), ensures that impacts to state infrastructure is addressed, and evaluates whether the proposed project complies with the Hawaii state plan (HRS § 205-16). This forms the basis of the Office’s official position and recommendation to the Commission.
Special Permits. A special permit provides a landowner relief in exceptional situations where the use desired would not change the essential character of the district nor be inconsistent therewith. Neighborhood Bd., Etc. v. State Land, Etc., 639 P. 2d 1097 (1982). For permits involving land less than 15 acres, county planning commissions may permit certain “unusual and reasonable uses” within agricultural and rural districts other than those for which the district is classified (HRS § 205-6). For permits involving land greater than 15 acres, the Land Use Commission makes the final decision. The Office of Planning reviews and comments on special permit petitions.
Important Agricultural Lands (IAL). In 2005, the Hawaii State Legislature set up a process by which IAL would be designated by each of the counties by a certain date. The purpose of the law is to conserve the state’s agricultural land resource base and assure the long-term availability of agricultural lands for agricultural use (HRS § 205-41).
The law also allows private landowners to voluntarily designate lands as IAL (HRS § 205-45), which is accomplished by submitting a petition for declaratory order to the Commission. Standards and criteria that the Commission considers, include the following: (1) importance of the land for agriculture; (2) productivity or viability of existing agricultural activity in the area; (3) fragmentation that would preclude viable agricultural use; (4) public benefit; and (5) necessity and capacity of government agencies to provide and support additional agricultural infrastructure or services in the area (HRS § 205-50).
The Office of Planning, in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, participates in this process by providing the Commission with the information it needs to make an informed decision about which lands should be designated.
State Land Use Commission. HRS § 205-1 (1976) and HRS § 205-2 (1976), established the Commission and conferred upon it the power to classify all of Hawaii’s lands into urban, rural, agricultural. It is comprised of nine members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The Commission is an independent, quasi-judicial body. In other words, they sit as impartial judges and fact finders. They review land use petitions and make reasoned decisions based on statutory and regulatory criteria and evidence presented by affected parties (usually a petitioner/landowner, Office of Planning, county, and sometimes an intervenor), pursuant to their rules (HAR Chapter 15-15).
Petitions Pending Before the Land Use Commission. The Office of Planning is currently reviewing petitions being prepared for hearings before the Land Use Commission. A list of pending and completed petitions is available from the Land Use Commission.
State Land Use Boundary Review Project. The Office of Planning is in the process of reviewing the classification and districting of all lands in the State. Information about this review is available below.
Resources. All state agencies are guided by two statewide planning documents (1) the Hawaii State Planning Act, which is a broad policy document that sets the table for all activities, programs, and decisions made by local and state agencies; and (2) the New Day Comprehensive Plan, which outlines the Administration’s priorities.
Here are some resources that can help you ensure that your project proposal conforms to land use criteria under HRS Chapter 205 and HAR Chapter 15-15, and in particular, the Hawaii State Planning Act and New Day Comprehensive Plan. This list is not intended to be complete or exhaustive:
- Smart Growth Principles, US EPA
- Green Building, US EPA
- Hawaii BuiltGreen™, BIA
- LEED® Green Building Rating System™
- Energy Star
- Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Strategic Industries Division
- 1995 Draft State Permit Guide
- Low Impact Development Guide
- Rural Policy & Best Practices Project
- Native Hawaiian Access Rights Project
- Hawaii Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Plan
- A Participant’s Guide to the Special Management Area (SMA) Permit Process in the State of Hawaii