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Posted on: April 13, 2023

Maui Planning Commission votes unanimously to approve new SMA and Shoreline rules

After more than a decade of collaboration between the community and the county, key updates were recently approved for Maui’s Special Management Area and Shoreline Rules that bring more balance and flexibility for homeowners while improving coastal resilience for the environment.

Maui Planning Commission on March 28 voted 8-0, with one member absent and excused, to approve significant changes to the rules. Maui’s original SMA and Shoreline rules were created in the early 1970s to establish shoreline building setbacks in sensitive coastal areas.

“The new rules reflect many years of work from the Maui County Planning Department, the Maui Planning Commission and community working groups,” County of Maui Planning Director Kathleen Ross Aoki said. “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.”

The updated SMA and Shoreline rules – along with an important map that will help landowners find whether the shoreline setback line applies to their properties – are being processed by the Planning Department. In about 45 days, the map and the adopted rules will go to the County Clerk’s Office. Thirty days after they’re submitted, the rules will take effect.

Several highlights of the new rules include:

•    Creates categorical exemptions, which allows people to bypass submitting an SMA assessment or permit application if proposed work has minimal to no environmental impact. For example, repairs and upgrades to the interior of homes, with a valuation of less than $500,000 in any 24-month period, within the special management area including the shoreline area are allowed, unless they are seeking expansion or intensifying the use.

•    Removes the mandatory requirement of certified shoreline surveys, which cost thousands of dollars, and instead leaves the decision to the discretion of the department.

•    Reduces the permitting burden for state-required conversion of cesspools.

•    Requires hazard mitigation plans that consider realignment of structures away from the shoreline if existing structures are exposed to coastal hazards.

Hawaiʻi Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, a 2017 guiding document for coastal planning around the state, urges people to plan for 3.2 feet of sea level rise now and adjust the projection upward in years to come.

In 2003, Maui County established shoreline building setbacks based on erosion rates. At the time, Maui was the first county in the state to take this science-based planning approach, and other counties have since adopted or are considering similar policies.

This policy has been successful in siting new development away from the shoreline for hazard protection and improved community and ecosystem resilience. However, the existing setback formula only considers historical erosion and does not factor in worsening conditions due to sea level rise.

The SMA and Shoreline areas, which are managed by state and county laws, are the most sensitive parts of the coastal zone. The Special Management Area, or SMA, is the area of the island that is close to the shoreline. It generally begins at the shoreline and extends inland to the nearest highway. The Shoreline area is the land between the shoreline and the shoreline setback line, with a more detailed definition in the rules.

County of Maui’s latest revision to the SMA and Shoreline rules is the second major update since 2003. Every decade, the guidelines will to be reassessed based on erosion rates and the best science available.

When the      new rules take effect, the public will be able to access the shoreline map on the Planning department’s website. Also, the department will hold public outreach to inform and to train residents on the changes.

“I want to thank everybody that testified and everybody that gave hours to working groups,” Maui Planning Commissioner Kimberly Thayer said during the March 28 meeting.  “This was a monumental team effort, truly a team effort, by a significant portion of the community. There was a lot of compromise that happened, which means that everybody got their voices heard and something down in these rules. This is a step forward and a foundation for more.”

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