Kaua`i’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance Update

The first step in what will arguably be the most important process taken up by the county council in recent memory was taken today after more than 20 years of discussion.

And most likely no one will notice. Or care.

The long delayed “CZO update” passed “first reading” today and will be going to a public hearing soon. But the measure, designed to clarify and simplify zoning on the island will probably do more to confuse and complicate matters than anything else.

According to the purpose statement of the bill (#2433) this “first phase” of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) update is “focusing on organizational and format changes,” and said to be “non-substantive” by council staffer Peter Morimoto.

It’s 166 pages long… and that’s the short version. The full “Ramseyered” version — with underlines and brackets to denote additions and deletions, respectively — is a thick monster of a document which was waved in the air at Thursday’s meeting. But since it replaces the entire CZO it has been introduced in the “short” form.

But just wait. The second “substantive bill” will no doubt be even longer and more complicated because it contains all the changes that the council and planning department have been putting off ever since the original CZO was passed in 1972.

Prior to then Kaua`i was “anything goes” when it came to building anything at all, anywhere one desired. That’s why you see structures over 40 years old that make you ask “how did they ever allow that to be built?”–not just for the construction itself but for the location.

The 1972 CZO established standards for the first time on Kaua`i and has been amended in dribs and drabs over the years to form what one council member called a “hodgepodge” of a document that has plagued everyone who’s tried to use it for decades.

Many “general” amendments were delayed or just blown off because no one knew where to put them or what precisely needed to change. And the ones that did get passed were just stuck in anywhere.

Since the mid 80’s, every time the council came up against a problem with the document they would inevitably throw up their hands and say, “well — that’s another one for the ‘CZO update’.” But of course that update never happened — until now.

Former Mayor from 1988-94 and now Council member JoAnn Yukimura told the council at today’s “extended” meeting (after yesterday’s power outage caused the meeting to be re-convened this morning) that her administration had worked on getting it done. And Council Chair Jay Furfaro said that when he served as Chair of the Planning Commission in 1997 he was promised by the planning department that it would be ready for commission scrutiny “by the end of the year.”

Over the past decade-plus the council has appropriated money at least twice (some say three times but who’s counting?) to allow the planning department to hire a consultant as the process became longer and more complicated.

That was during the reign of Planning Director Ian Costa whose use of what we’ve called “the fog” managed to bamboozle the council with promises of “soon” followed by requests for more money, followed by more promises of “soon” and more requests for more money.

Anyway, according to the purpose section of this first “housekeeping” bill:

The County of Kaua`i adopted the first General Plan in 1971 (updated in 1984 and 2000).

Subsequently, the County of Kaua`i adopted the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) in 1972. Since its adoption, the County of Kaua`i has approved several amendments to specific provisions of the CZO. However, the CZO has not been updated in a comprehensive manner since its adoption.

In order to present the CZO update in a more orderly fashion, the CZO Update has been divided into two phases, with the first phase focusing on organizational and format changes. This involves mainly moving or relocating existing provisions to more appropriate locations in the code. The first phase also includes the re-codification of ordinance amendments made to the CZO. The second phase will show the newly reformatted document with recommended substantive changes to the code in a Ramseyered format which will be forthcoming after the first phase has been completed.

Thus, the purpose of this ordinance is to complete the first phase of the CZO update by adopting all organizational, format changes, and to re-codify ordinance amendments made to the CZO to date.

The “second phase” will supposedly contain all the changes that people have sought over the years. But that, in and of itself, is going to be much longer and much, much more complicated.

And of course controversial.

You can count on the fact that developers will want certain measures to be amenable to development while the public interest will be to maintain control over that very development.

The devil will be in the details. With hundreds of pages of old and new provisions all up for grabs you can bet that the monied side will have banks of attorneys scrutinizing each “shall,” “will” and “may” for an advantage- that all important “technicality” that will make a judge take notice.

Add to that the recent cap on development that was instituted after a petition-derived charter amendment limited growth to an amount determined in the general plan. And add to that the fact that another general plan update is due to commence any time now with the last one having been completed in 2002 and a charter mandate that they occur once every 10 years.

You can bet that the “development community” will be seeking to water down slow growth and “keep Kaua`i, Kaua`i” forces at bay at every step of the process.

The second phase will not be introduced until this first phase is done according to council staff and the content will come from the planning department where it will go though public hearings and planning commission approval before it eventually reaches the council.

If regular citizens want to participate in that process, the time to organize is not when the bill hits the council floor, but now while there is still time to formulate positions and get ready for those first planning commission hearings.

What the timeline is for all of this is anyone’s guess. But those who are concerned about growth on Kaua`i can’t start paying attention to this one too soon because there is no doubt the other side is already at work, having waited many years for this “opportunity.”

As an aside, the actual text of the bill is available on-line, although apparently council members weren’t aware of that today. That’s probably because it’s not at the council’s page at the county web site but as part of the “Granicus” site, which is the company that does the video of the council meetings and where items are both streamed live and archived.

It’s also where the “paperwork” accompanying each item on the council’s agenda is now being posted.

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the appearance of this “paperwork” for council agenda items on-line after years of delay — much of the delay, as we said, apparently intentional. At the time we complained that although Granicus was finally posting the material it was not in “text” form but rather as a scanned document.This week, however, many of the documents — including bills, resolutions and other communications- started to appear in text form, allowing the words to be copied and pasted from the document.

That’s where the CZO update bill is posted and since the “new” CZO will replace the old one in its entirety, the new one is simply posted in its entirety.

We point this out because the council seemed blissfully unaware of the posting, even through apparently someone on their staff provided Granicus with the documents in the text format.

During the meeting council members kept asking their staff to “scan” and post a copy, seemingly unaware of the fact that it was available to the public in a text format through Granicus, although not in the Ramseyer format. But if Granicus could post the one they have there now, couldn’t they also have put up a text-format copy of the Ramseyered document? (Unless the purpose is to cut down thousands of trees to provide paper to print everything out.)

Did anyone ever check to see if Kaipo Asing or Peter Nakamura had stock in either Georgia Pacific or Weyerhauser?

Well, we wouldn’t be happy if we didn’t have something to complain about.