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May 1973

Thoughts on Recycling... Design for Durability and Repairability
Program Making
Dollars and Sense: Who's on Welfare? We all are!
Have an hour you don't know what to do with?
Land Use Consensus Questions
Attitudes toward Property Rights (Carol Whitesell)
Constitutional Amendments
Voter Service
Suggestions for State Board Nominations
Solid Waste Consensus Questions

Attitudes toward Property Rights

During the past few years land use has emerged as a major issue. Hawaii, like the rest of the nation, is wrestling with problems of environmental degradation, preservation of open space, how and where to meet housing needs. How we deal with these problems is strongly influenced by our underlying attitudes toward land and property rights.

Many of our attitudes about property rights spring from the 19th century !view that land is a commodity whose chief function is to make money for the owner. Thus "highest and best use", a term found in tax laws and other laws relating to land, is likely to mean the use which generates the highest return. The property-owner, big or small, feels entitled to a return on his "investment" whether by sale, development, or lease. we are familiar with the protests of residents against low-cost housing and planned unit developments, which they fear will lower their property values.

The view of land as a commodity is not going unchallenged. "will land continue to be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold or will it be treated as a valuable natural resource?" asks Overview, in the State Comprehensive Open Space Plan,

The controversy over the future of agriculture illustrates the opposing viewpoints. Major landholders predict the end of agri-culture as an economically viable use of land, and look toward profitable urban development. Those who want agriculture to continue emphasize 'its economic value to the state as a whole, as well as the open space and environmental values of agricultural land, but do not come to grips with the economic problems facing landholders.

The Constitution prohibits the taking of property without just compensation, and government often hesitates to drastically restrict the use of land by downzoning for fear of being taken to court. Note, too, the gingerly way in which Hawaii's Land Use Commission has exercised its prerogative to downzone land upon failure of the developer to perform. It has been pointed out that this is a double standard. "Why should real-estate speculators feel that they ought to be immune from losses caused by downzoning of their property? There is no guarantee that government decisions won't reduce the value of other kinds of investments." (New Strategies for Open Space" by Philip R. Pryde in Sierra Club Bulletin, Feb. 1972).

And how will the concept of land as resource be expressed in our tax laws and in public land policies? Already in Hawaii it has been proposed that agricultural land be taxed on the basis of its use in agriculture, instead of on the basis of fair market value. A tax on speculative profits on land has also been discussed. Would we then have to compensate owners for loss of value through downzoning? what would be the other effects of such a tax?

Land banks for housing and open-apace purposes are also being discussed. But how will government be able to acquire this land without further changes in our view of the property owner's right to a profit? and will Government be able to resist the temptation to put public lands to use which will produce the highest tax revenues?

Nevertheless, there are signs that we are moving away from. looking at land strictly in terms of. economic value -- the realization that the supply of land is limited; and the increased awareness of the environmental value of lands formerly considered useless. Over the past 20 years the purpose of land regulation has expanded to encompass broader social and environmental purposes. Examples are Hawaii's land use law, other state land use legislation aimed at protecting shorelines, wetlands or a rural atmosphere, and flexible zoning regulations which allow developments to be designed according to specific situations.

Carol Whitesell
State Land Use Chrm.

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