June 1, 2011||Featured, Resources for Big Island Residents


Building a Home in a Conservation District: Can or No Can?

Pictured above, MLS 243693 (Sold 5/10/13 for $1,650,000), is an East Hawaii residence built on Conservation zoned land.

“Except for land that is also in the Special Management Area (SMA)…the Conservation District is solely under State jurisdiction. The Conservation District is further divided into four main subzones: Protective, Limited, Resource, and General. In terms of uses, the strictest is the Protective; the least strict is the General. There is also a ‘Special’ subzone that can accommodate unique projects.”

Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands: Conservation District

What is Conservation District Zoning?

In the Hawaiian Islands, land is a precious resource. Conservation Districts have been established to protect environmentally sensitive areas by placing certain restrictions on how Conservation zoned land can be used. There are several categories within the Conservation zoning that allow for different types of land use.

Can I Build a Home on Conservation Zoned Land?

As Big Island real estate agents, one question that we often hear asked by landowners or potential buyers of Conservation lands is: “Can I build a home on land in a Conservation District?” The answer, usually, is: “Let’s do some research.” Depending on the property, there are many cases where the answer is: “Yes, if you have the patience to work through the approval process.”

Obtaining Approval for Building a Home on Conservation Zoned Land

Clark Realty has assisted many buyers and sellers in the purchase or sale of land with Conservation zoning or that is in a Special Management Area.

Based on those experiences, this is a suggested outline of the steps to take if you are investigating the possibility of building a residence on a parcel that falls under the Conservation guidelines:

Contact the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) in Honolulu to find out which “subzone” the property is in.

  1. Before obtaining a building permit from Hawaii County you must complete a Conservation District Use Application (CDUA) from the DLNR. As part of the application process, you may be required to demonstrate compliance with regulations governing Special Management Areas (SMA) or to conduct an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
  2. Each island has a DLNR representative who sits on the panel that approves the CDU applications. Contact them in advance and ask if they would respond favorably to your plan. Establishing  a good working relationship with your local representative will make things easier as the process unfolds.
  3. If navigating the application process sounds like more than what you are up for, you can contact a professional planner who specializes in CDUA permitting.
  4. Understanding going in that the approval process may be lengthy will be helpful in keeping your expectations realistic (it could take up to a year or possibly longer, depending on the property). But, it can be done.

If you are considering purchasing or selling a Big Island property in a Conservation District or Special Management Area and would like to discuss the ins and outs of the requirements for obtaining a permit to build a residence on the land, please contact us for additional resources or to discuss available listings.

Other Resources:

DLNR / OCCL – Land Use Application

Conservation District Use Application (CDUA)

OCCL Subzone Maps

Hawaii County Special Management Area Information

*Note: This post was updated 1/23/2017.

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