On December 14, 2020, the new Planning Director of Hawaii County issued Memo 2020-07. This memo rescinded a previous memo from 2020 under the former administration, and reinstated a 2014 memo from an administration before the previous administration. Confused yet? Let’s look at it in a timeline form.

Before 2014 we were seeing what is referred to as “pod” style homes. These will be homes which have a number of structures on the parcel, instead of just a single traditional structure. So for example, you might have a “main house” with 3 or 4 (or more) other buildings which would have bedrooms, bathrooms, and possibly even a living area. These pods were not allowed to have kitchens. It’s important to note that at no time was a second kitchen allowed- either previous to or after any of these memos.

With all these new pod houses, some people wanted to have some guidance from the Planning Department to confirm that these pod houses were allowed. 

In 2014, the Planning Department under the Billy Kenoi administration issued Memo 2014-04 which addressed pod houses and set forth a set of rules for the construction of pod houses.

In early 2020, the Planning Department under the Harry Kim administration issued Memo 2020-04 which effectively made pod style houses illegal. Houses could have a detached garage and one detached structure. The detached structures could not total over 500 square feet. The was an extreme limitation, and a severe restriction on property rights. The motivation, I believe, was to eliminate people creating multi-family houses where single family was the zoning. I understand the need to enforce single family homes areas zoned for single family homes.

However, this action, in my opinion, was a classic example of “old school” Hawaii leadership, and I’m glad to see it gone, and new leadership in place with the Roth Administration. Instead of enforcing the laws and rules in place, Mayor Kim took the lazy way out and made a new rule which limited the rights of law abiding citizens out of fear of the actions of people acting illegally. This logic is of course tragically flawed– if rule breakers were already acting illegally by turning single family homes into multi family homes, another rule would not stop them. The only people truly impacted were the people who follow the rules and laws. We saw this for years with the Kim administration. It’s like amputating an arm for a broken finger. Sure, the broker finger is no longer a problem, but at what cost!

 SUBJECT: Guidelines for Guest House Policy, Detached Bedrooms and Accessory Structures

The following directives are effective immediately:

  1. Planning Director Policy Memo No. 2020-04 is hereby rescinded.
  2. Planning Director Policy Memo No. 2014-04 is hereby reinstated. For the purpose of convenience, the content of Memo No. 2014-04 is copied below.

After more than a year of discussion and case by case application of the guest house and accessory building/structure/detached bedroom issue, I have decided to rescind my previous staff Memorandum No. 2014-02, dated April 28, 2014, which also previously rescinded PD Memorandum No. 05-07. By this memo, Memorandum No. 05-07 is also rescinded in its entirety.

The zoning code was modeled after the traditional single family dwelling unit of the past, and while still perfectly applicable, has not precisely kept up with evolving residential lifestyles and architectural themes which have moved toward residential dwelling units wherein one or more detached rooms, primarily used for sleeping (bedroom) are not contained within one contiguous structure and therefore may not meet the traditional definition of a “dwelling unit” in the zoning code. Nevertheless, detached accessory buildings proposed to be used for bedrooms/living space and structurally separated from the main building containing the kitchen/common living area must be closely integrated with and clearly supportive to the functions of the main building so that this group of buildings, with the main building as its core, will function as the complete facilities for the cooking, sleeping, and living area for a cohesive single family dwelling unit.

This cohesive relationship can be established in variety of ways including, but not limited to, a connection to the main building structure via common elements such as a courtyard, deck, pool deck, walkways, trellises, etc. or situated within a reasonable, functional proximity to the main building.

The following are some general guidelines for interpreting the applicable definitions of the zoning code pertaining to requests for accessory structures proposing to be part of the group of buildings that will be used as the complete facilities for the cooking, sleeping, and living area used in conjunction with the main building to form a single family dwelling unit.

  1. There must be a main building before a guest house or accessory building can be considered, and the main building must have the required minimum facilities — cooking (kitchen), sleeping and living area — to constitute a dwelling unit. A living area may also be used for sleeping and labeled as “living/sleeping area ” in the main building.
  2. Once the main use (dwelling unit) has been established, either a guest house or accessory building/structure(s) can be considered for approval. A Guest house must follow zoning code requirements with regards to building site area, and building height. Accessory buildings/structures that include sleeping and living, and other uses, can be considered for approval, singly or in combination with other detached buildings/structures, provided that these buildings/structures follow zoning code requirements with regard to building site area and building height. Further, accessory buildings and uses shall be incidental and subordinate to the main use.
  3. While the number of bedrooms is not a basis for rejection, an applicant may be advised that the threshold guideline for the maximum number of bedrooms in any configuration is based on the DOH assessment of what is the maximum number of bedrooms that can be serviced by one cesspool or septic unit. It is quite possible that a family or an extended family could well exceed this threshold which is why it should be used as a guideline rather than a standard because DOH requirements will ultimately control.
  4. Sinks may be permitted in any accessory building provided the plans are stamped “NOT APPROVED FOR SECOND KITCHEN” in the area of the proposed sink, except for bathroom sinks.

Staff is asked to use discretion in applying these guidelines and to recognize that while it is quite easy to second guess the true intent of dwelling site plans, suspicion alone is not sufficient cause for denying a particular site plan.

As always, please confer with your respective Manager or the Deputy or myself if situations arise where further consultations are necessary.