Categorized | Agriculture, Business, Government, News

Agtourism bill to be heard by Planning Committee (Aug. 20)

Roya Sabri | Hawaii 24/7 Reporter

The Hawaii County Council’s Planning Committee is expected to vote on draft two of Bill 25 concerning agricultural tourism (agtourism) operations at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20 at West Hawaii Civic Center.

Both the Windward and Leeward Planning Commissions favorably recommended the bill that defines agtourism and spells out the requirements for farmers to products related to their agricultural operations.

Karen Eoff, council member for District 8, said most testimony presented to the commissions came from the leeward side. On hearing testimony, the leeward planning commission suggested changing the daily time limit for agtourism activities from “20 minutes after sunset as forecasted for each day by the National Weather Service” to a specific hour.

The commission also amended its motion with a request:

… “That the council solicit additional input from the farming and ranching communities including specific organizations like the farm bureau and the Hawaii Agricultural Tourism Association to seek additional input on the bill and any additional amendments.”

Eoff said she can only hypothesize about what this will entail. She is eager to hear what her fellow committee members will suggest.

“Mostly the bill is good. We just need to find a way to balance support for small farmers and accommodations for their neighbors,” she said.

The current County Code limits all agtourism operations to 30,000 visitors per day and requires a plan approval for each operation, which, Eoff said, is an expensive process that includes a drainage study.

“(The current Code) doesn’t support small agtourism operations,” she said. “This bill gives them a chance to have an agtourism operation and to sell a value-added product and survive.”

The main purpose of the bill is to distinguish between “major” and a “minor” agtourism and to provide the proper planning process for each to establish and sustain itself.

Bill 25 defines a “major” operation as one that accepts a maximum of 30,000 visitors annually and that achieves a “minimum of $10,000 in verifiable gross sales, exclusive of any income from agricultural tourism activities or any other non-agricultural activities for the year preceding the commencement of the agricultural tourism activity.”

New farms must provide the county planning director with sufficient evidence to prove investment into agricultural production and processing. “Major” operations may accept buses. Therefore they must also consider adequate parking and accessibility.

A “minor” operation is one with a maximum of 5,000 visitors annually not exceeding 100 visitors per week traveling to the site in passenger vehicles that carry no more than 15 people per vehicle. The bill does not specify required sales exclusive of income from agtourism.

The original bill that addressed the distinction between “minor” and “major” agtourism was Bill 266. Eoff said that version was “discussed to death and amended to death in the previous council.”

In its fifth draft, the bill was placed on the new council’s agenda. However, council members found it too convoluted to work with and did not pass it. Zendo Kern, Planning Committee chairman and council member for District 5, drafted Bill 25 based on Bill 266’s second draft.

Bill 25 originally proposed a limit of 15,000 visitors for a minor agricultural operation annually with a limit of 350 per week and of 15 per day. Potential neighbors to minor agtourism operations requested more stringent limitations.

Eoff said the committee amended the bill to remove the daily limit and to reduce the “minor” agtourism restrictions to its current specifications.

The bill also deleted the Code’s general rule that “gross revenues from agricultural tourism shall not exceed the gross revenues of the associated agricultural activity and/or agricultural products processing facility.”

Eoff said some testifiers were upset by this and claimed the bill promotes commercial instead of agricultural production.

However, she said, a “minor” agtourism farmer who grows a product like lilikoi may only want to sell value-added products such as jams and jellies.

She agreed creating a bill that encompasses every farmer’s needs is nearly impossible as each farm is different. The diversity of Hawaii’s agricultural sector may be a challenge but it has become one of its greatest assets, she said, and if passed, Bill 25 can help better accommodate the milieu.

Eoff said she hopes the bill’s long and winding journey will soon reach its end.  

“We can adopt the bill and live with it for a while,” she said. “Then, if needed, we can go back and amend it.”

– Submit testimony:

counciltestimony@co.hawaii.hi….

(The deadline for emailed testimony is noon Monday, Aug. 19, 2013.)

 

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