After over a decade of collaboration between the community and the county, Maui County’s Planning Commission approved updates to the Special Management Area (SMA) and Shoreline Rules. The updates were approved by the Commission in an 8-0 vote on March 28. When adopted, the rules will bring more balance and flexibility for homeowners, while also improving coastal resilience for the environment.
Maui County originally established SMA and Shoreline Rules in the early 1970s to create shoreline building setbacks in sensitive coastal areas. However, the existing setback formula only considered historical erosion rates and did not factor in worsening conditions due to sea level rise.
The updated SMA and Shoreline Rules reflect many years of work from the Maui County Planning Department, the Maui Planning Commission, and community working groups. The new rules incorporate the best available science on sea level rise to bolster coastal resilience. When the new rules take effect, the public will be able to access the shoreline map on the Planning department’s website. The department will also hold public outreach to inform and train residents on the changes.
Highlights of the New Rules
- Creates categorical exemptions, allowing people to bypass submitting an SMA assessment or permit application if proposed work has minimal to no environmental impact. For example, repairs and upgrades to the interior of homes, with a valuation of less than $500,000 in any 24-month period, within the special management area including the shoreline area are allowed, unless they are seeking expansion or intensifying the use.
- Removes the mandatory requirement of certified shoreline surveys, which cost thousands of dollars, and instead leaves the decision to the discretion of the department.
- Reduces the permitting burden for state-required conversion of cesspools.
- Requires hazard mitigation plans that consider realignment of structures away from the shoreline if existing structures are exposed to coastal hazards.
The new rules are more balanced and flexible for homeowners, while incorporating the best available science on sea level rise to bolster coastal resilience. This represents the second major update since 2003, with future reassessments based on erosion rates and the best science available planned every decade.
The SMA and Shoreline areas, managed by state and county laws, are the most sensitive parts of the coastal zone. The Special Management Area is the area of the island that is close to the shoreline, generally beginning at the shoreline and extending inland to the nearest highway. The Shoreline area is the land between the shoreline and the shoreline setback line.
The updated rules provide a foundation for further progress and a step forward in balancing the needs of homeowners and protecting the environment. The Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, a guiding document for coastal planning around the state, urges people to plan for 3.2 feet of sea level rise now and adjust the projection upward in years to come. The updated SMA and Shoreline Rules represent a significant milestone for Maui County in addressing the challenges of coastal resilience and planning for the future.