Wednesday | January 18, 2017
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Tsuji talks agriculture

A pair of bills before the state Legislature would expand counties’ authority regarding development on agriculture land, impose a maximum size for farm dwellings and increase the minimum lot size for agricultural land. Rep. Clift Tsuji, D-Hilo, introduced the bills this month. He called them starting points for a conversation about preserving agricultural land.

“We’ve gone from big plantations to small farms,” Tsuji said this week, adding he sees farmers here trying to “reinvigorate agriculture.”

House Bill 630 would require any agricultural subdivision or agricultural condominium, meaning condominium property regime requests, get county council approval. Tsuji said the bill isn’t meant to be “dictatorial, but provide home rule and flexibility. It’s our backyard. This has been an ongoing discussion.”

Taking those requests to the council would be “in the best interest of the counties,” he added.

House Bill 626 addresses another ongoing conversation, Tsuji said, the debate about what constitutes a farm dwelling. His bill sets the maximum size for a farm dwelling at 2,000 square feet, although he said he expects to see more discussion about what the appropriate size would be. The bill increases the minimum lot size from 1 acre to 5 acres.

The measure is especially pertinent on the Big Island, where there is an interest in trying to “avoid (gentlemen farmers who) are not interested in farming,” Tsuji said.

He said he is interested in hearing from farmers about their experiences on smaller lots and larger lots about what works. He’ll be taking those comments into consideration, he said. Both measures passed first reading on Tuesday. Both were then referred to the agricultural and water and land committees.