How many of us haven’t at some time entertained the idea (except those who have already done so!) of running off to Kauai, buying a few acres, and “living off the land”. A potent fantasy indeed, and for the past several years, one realized only by those with considerably deep pockets – vacant agricultural land on Kauai has recently ranged from $100,000 to well over $300,000 per acre (depending on location, views, caliber of neighborhood, etc…); land with a house already on it, obviously, even more.
The recent economic travails, however, are certainly doing their part to bring farming on Kauai back from the realm of fantasy into something verging on do-able for a lot more of us. And as well, these travails are providing motivation – more and more of us just want to chuck everything and revert to a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle.
Acreage on the Big Island has always been more affordable – for one thing, there’s a whole lot more of it; for another, it comes with active lava zones, limited infrastructure, long travel distances, etc… Kauai is like a precious green jewel-box in comparison – much smaller, more accessible, more groomed. The soil is older, the distances smaller, the beaches closer. And it has been much, much more expensive.
Throughout the late ‘90’s into this decade, hundreds of acres of Kauai agricultural lands have been divided using Hawaii’s condominium laws into land-condos, or CPRs (Condominium Property Regimes). Many of these lands, some of them old pineapple or cane fields, were no longer being farmed, or were being used for pasture. On Kauai, land zoned for agriculture is allowed approximately 1 home for every 3 acres, so there’s been a proliferation of so-called “Gentlemen Farms” – often large houses built on 2 – 5 acre parcels with marginal, if any, agricultural activity. These properties were selling from $800,000 into well over $2 million.
The past year, however, has been like living in a time machine, as we watch prices roll back into 2004 levels, then 2003, towards 2002 and ?…. An interesting aspect of this is seeing how prices are not dropping uniformly – different sectors, and different sectors WITHIN those sectors, are behaving differently. For example, we are seeing Princeville condo prices drop much more steeply than, say, Kapaa land. And certain condo complexes in Princeville have dropped much more steeply than other complexes.
For agricultural land, we are in general seeing more impressive drops on the North Shore than in other parts of the island. There may be a couple of reasons for this. For one, land prices on the North Shore had been a lot higher than elsewhere, so they have further to drop. Many of the Sellers on the North Shore may also have more financial resources and may be more able to weather the blow than Sellers on other parts of the island.
Another ingredient in the soup is the upcoming “ADU Sunset”. Agriculturally-zoned parcels on Kauai, in addition to the aforementioned home density, come with the right to build a guest house. The County has allowed owners to “convert” that right into the right to build another home, or additional dwelling unit – ADU. But a couple of years ago, the County decreed that anyone on ag-zoned land that received permission to build an ADU would lose that right if they did not have a building permit in place by the end of 2009. So what we have are a number of ag-zoned CPR lots on the market right now that will lose the ability to have a home built on them, unless: a) they sell fairly quickly and the new owner starts the permitting process; or b) the current owner goes ahead and pulls a permit for a house they would rather not have to build. As you can guess, this is making for some rather motivated Sellers.
The upshot of all this is that it is becoming more and more affordable, little by little, to “get back to the land” on Kauai. All over Kauai, especially on the North Shore, there is a vibrant community of small farmers, permaculture enthusiasts, vegetable gardeners, and organic advocates who are doing their part to grow more of Kauai’s food. Land here still isn’t cheap, by any means, but it is moving in that direction. And I can’t think of anywhere nicer to dig in the dirt. Green Acres, indeed!