Hawaii & Alaska
Stabilization efforts at Royal Kahana Maui condos. (Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2022)

HI - New Rules That Seek To Better Protect Maui’s Coastlines Will Take Effect Soon

The rules govern development near shorelines on the Valley Isle.

Planning officials are paving the way for some big changes with how the local government controls development and construction projects close to and along Maui’s coastlines.

Maui County locator map

The rule changes are the culmination of months of sometimes contentious meetings between Maui County planning officials, volunteers on the Maui Planning Commission and residents ranging from shoreline advocates to scientists to tourism industry representatives who spent hours scouring the proposed rules.

They were set in motion after the Maui Planning Commission voted last month to update the special management area and shoreline rules. Officials are now processing all the changes and putting together a key map that will allow landowners to more quickly learn whether their properties are subject to more careful planning and permitting requirements because they’re threatened by sea level rise.

The updates make it easier for property owners to make minor upgrades to homes — like painting or redoing carpets. They also making a sweeping change to the way the shoreline setback is determined, by basing the county’s measurement on widely recognized climate change science that shows which areas will be in harm’s way when seas rise.

“The updated SMA and Shoreline rules are more balanced and flexible for homeowners, and incorporate the best available science on sea level rise to bolster coastal resilience,” County of Maui Planning Director Kathleen Ross Aoki said in a news release.

Maui’s original rules were created in the 1970s and are supposed to “preserve, protect and, where possible, restore” coastlines and beaches. The special management area falls under heightened protection because it’s near the shoreline, generally extending mauka to the nearest highway.

The complicated SMA rules guide permitting requirements and what can and can’t be built in the area, ranging from big projects like entirely new structures to minor repairs on existing buildings.

From the perspective of some residents, the rules haven’t been effective enough. Islanders in recent years have become increasingly aware of the mounting threats to the Valley Isle’s coastlines, from private landowners illegally blocking access with gates to seawalls that protect one estate at the expense of everyone else. Those tensions are only expected to grow as sea level rise begins to swallow more coastal properties in the decades to come.

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