May 24, 2023  |  Articles

Changes to Honolulu’s Coastal Zone Management Ordinances

Child Playing On Beach In Oahu Hawaii

On March 9, 2023, Mayor Blangiardi signed into law two bills that significantly affect properties on and near Oʻahu’s shoreline. The enacted ordinances, Ordinances 23-3 and 23-4, are the culmination of a yearlong process to increase the regulation of land within the shoreline setback and the special management area (SMA). In part, the changes to the law are intended to respond to predicted sea level rise and coastal erosion by implementing more stringent restrictions on structures and activities that may be susceptible to coastal hazards.

Shoreline Setbacks – Ordinance 23-3

Under state law and the City’s current rules, the shoreline setback line runs 40 feet inland from and parallel to the certified shoreline. The land between the shoreline setback line and the certified shoreline is known as the shoreline setback area, within which new structures and activities are generally prohibited.

Ordinance 23-3 establishes a new shoreline setback line ranging from 60 feet to 130 feet from the certified shoreline. Specifically, beginning on July 1, 2024, the shoreline setback line will be 60 feet from the certified shoreline for lots within urban Honolulu. Lots outside of urban Honolulu will be subject to a shoreline setback line ranging from 60 feet to 130 feet based on the annual coastal erosion rate associated with the lot. Lots in areas that do not have evidence of historical erosion will be subject to a setback of 60 feet.

Once a shoreline has been certified and shoreline setback line has been established, the shoreline setback line cannot be moved farther seaward as the result of a subsequent certified shoreline survey.

Other important provisions of Ordinance 23-3 include:

  • Limits on repairs to previously lawful structures located in the shoreline setback area
  • Additional conditions on the granting of a shoreline setback hardship variance
  • Changes to shallow lot standards
  • Increases to the shoreline setback line for new shoreline lots created by a subdivision or consolidation of land
  • New requirements on lot shape and size for newly-created residential lots
  • A tenfold increase in civil fines for violations of the shoreline setback ordinance

Special Management Area (SMA)–Ordinance 23-4

The SMA is the land extending mauka from the certified shoreline to a boundary established by the Honolulu City Council that is further inland than the shoreline setback line. “Development” within the SMA is subject to additional limitations and regulations. Ordinance 23-4 broadens the definition of “development,” thereby expanding the range of activities requiring an SMA permit.

Importantly, development now includes the construction or reconstruction of dwelling units, of any size, that are situated on shoreline lots or lots impacted by waves, storm surges, high tides, or shoreline erosion. Only the addition of minor accessory structures and floor area to a dwelling unit are not considered development, provided such additions do not exceed 300 sq. ft. The construction or reconstruction of dwelling units that have an aggregate floor area of 7,500 sq. ft. or are part of a larger development of three or more dwelling units continue to be classified as development.

Other important provisions of Ordinance 23-4 include:

  • Exemptions for the relocation of dwelling units away from the shoreline
  • Additional restrictions on the use of landscaping to protect shoreline lots
  • Environmental review exemptions for certain residential projects Guidelines discouraging the development of structures within areas that may be affected by sea level rise
  • A tenfold increase in civil fines for violations of the SMA ordinance

Our experienced team can guide you in navigating Hawai‘i’s Coastal Zone Management regulations and the effects of changes to Honolulu’s shoreline setbacks and SMA ordinances. We look forward to assisting you as you seek to maximize your property’s potential.