HILO — The island’s two planning commissions are making it easier for farms to lure and accommodate tourists.
The Windward Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously endorsed a measure that creates a new category of “minor” agri-tourism business that can bypass many of the rules imposed on larger operations. The measure, which also must be approved by the Leeward Planning Commission before going to the County Council, also eliminates the need for a site inspection before agri-tourism businesses can receive plan approval.
“This is one step in the right direction,” said Comissioner Wallace Ishiboshi. “It’s going to help the farmers.”
Meanwhile, the Leeward Planning Commission on May 17 will tackle a related rule tightening requirements on bed and breakfasts by expanding requirements for use permits from the commission in certain zoning designations.
Minor agri-tourism operations are defined as operations that see 15,000 visitors or less a year, with a weekly maximum of 350 visitors. Operations in that size range will no longer need plan approval before commencing operations.
“This will allow farmers to help supplement their agricultural business, especially on a monthly basis so they don’t have to wait for the crop to come in,” said Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd.
There will no longer be a maximum limit of gross revenue generated. And, agricultural tourism operations will no longer be defined by square footage, but strictly by a maximum annual visitor count of 30,000.
So-called major agri-tourism operations will now face a 30-day review of plan approval rather than the current 60 days. There will no longer be a one-year grace period for major agri-tourism businesses to secure final plan approval. Instead, all agricultural tourism operations will be required to conform immediately, once the new rules are approved by the County Council.
The move was praised by Lani Medina Weigert, president of the Hawaii Agritourism Association, which represents 125 farms statewide.
“This will be very helpful for many farmers,” Weigert said. “It will create a more dependable revenue stream coming in.”