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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 25, 2006

Agricultural tourism could get boost by bill

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tourism activities would be allowed on agricultural land so long as they meet certain guidelines, under a bill approved yesterday by the state House Committee on Tourism & Culture.

The bill, which is headed for a full House vote, would amend the state land use law to include agricultural tourism as a permissible use in an agricultural district, but requires that visitor activities be secondary to the agricultural use and do not interfere with surrounding farm operations.

The measure, House Bill 2145, also requires the counties to further regulate agricultural tourism by setting ordinances on issues such as road access, parking, gift shops, activities and days and hours of operation.

Supporters of the measure, including the state Department of Agriculture, say agricultural tourism can help farmers diversify their operations and supplement their incomes.

"This bill is extremely important to me and other farmers and ranchers in Hawai'i, because agricultural tourism is an innovative concept," said Howard Yamasaki, owner and manager of C&H Farms on the Big Island, in his written testimony. Yamasaki, a coffee and macadamia nut farmer, also said such activities educate consumers about the agricultural goods they buy, help farmers learn what consumers want, and create jobs for trained guides and salespeople.

But some opponents, including the Waimanalo Agricultural Association, said it would make agricultural lands more vulnerable to improper uses and that the current permitting process is an acceptable procedure that protects the agricultural lands.

"Amending the definitions of 'agriculture activities' will open things up for people looking for loopholes in the law to do whatever they want on ag lands," said Annette Lee of the association.

Rep. Kyle Yamashita, a primary introducer of the bill, said the measure requires counties to regulate such activities by ordinance so permits could still be required.

"Right now there is no definition under the state what is ag-tourism," said Yamashita, D-12th (Upcountry Maui). "So it's just widespread and each county might be doing it differently. What this does is describe what can be done and that it shall be accessory and secondary to agriculture. ... The county has to further regulate, which is good because right now everybody is just doing it without asking."

Still, concerns remain even among some bill supporters that the counties will not be able to enforce land use ordinances in agricultural areas.

"Some of what you see as far as agri-tourism may not have the necessary permits that are required under the county," said Alan Takemoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, which supports the bill with concerns. "So we don't believe that the counties have anything in place to regulate or enforce these types of activities."

He said abuses in agricultural areas like repair shops, bed-and-breakfast establishments and weddings have existed for years with little enforcement by the counties.

"On one hand, we want to allow or at least give the farmers the opportunity to do these types of agritourism that complements their farming business," he said. "On the other hand, those that are abusing the system currently and in the future are dragging everybody down. ... So now we're opening ourselves up to agritourism; that's one more responsibility that the counties have to regulate, and can they do it? I think they need more resources, if you ask me."

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.