Zoning in General

In the world of real estate, the term “zoning” refers to the land-use planning practice that is used as a tool by local governments to help plan and control what types buildings can be built in certain areas, and what types of “uses” are permitted in those areas.

As was outlined in Kauai Real Estate History article, the State of Hawaii Office of Planning, Land Use Division, categorizes real estate in Hawaii into one of four distinct zones: urban, rural, agricultural and conservation. All real estate state-wide falls into one of these four categories, and the following is the estimated breakdown of percent of land by size, per zone, state-wide:

  • Conservation - 48%
  • Agricultural - 47%
  • Urban - 5%
  • Rural - Less than ½ of 1%

Permitted Uses & Governing Powers

There is a fairly standardized understanding of permitted uses within each of the four types of zones found in all of Hawaii, so what is true for the entire state is found to be true for Kauai, as well.

The Urban classification of zoning allows individual counties the authority to establish their own zoning for residential, apartment, resort, industrial, commercial and preservation uses.

The Rural classification of zoning is regulated by the Hawaii Land Use Commission and also by local county governments, and consists primarily of small farms and low-density residential development on relatively larger lots (typically a minimum of ½-acre).

Local county governments and the Land Use Commission also govern Agricultural zoning jointly. Historically, agricultural zoning more strictly restricted uses to those relating to ranching, forestry, and/or farming. Today, more and more single-family home residences are being established in agricultural zones, but with some degree of accompanying requirements for the property to continue to be used in a historically conforming agricultural sense.

Finally, Conservation zoning accounts for all lands identified specifically as forest area, submerged lands, lands subject to flooding and erosion, water reserve zones, etc. The State Department of Land and Natural Resources administers and manages conservation zones.