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Saturday, February 18, 2023
Abolish Zoning: Land Use Solution for Hawaii?
By Grassroot Institute @ 6:52 PM :: 2093 Views :: Development, Land Use

Gray makes waves with challenge to zoning laws

from Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, February 16, 2023

Sometimes, problems that are exclusive to the islands call for uniquely Hawaii solutions. That’s not necessarily the case for the affordable housing crisis, though, says zoning expert Nolan Gray. 

Gray, author of the recently published book “Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It,” believes that zoning regulations can feasibly be abolished to build more affordable, prosperous and sustainable communities. 

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii invited Gray to present his views on Oahu and Maui this week. On Wednesday, he spoke to class at Hawaii Pacific University and an audience of law students, former and current government planning officials and other interested community members at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law. 

At the UH event, Gray, a former New York City city planner who currently is research director for a housing advocacy group called California YIMBY and a doctoral student in urban planning at University of California, Los Angeles, called zoning a “social project” and talked in general about what zoning is, how it began in the early 1900s as a tool for racial segregation, and how it affects communities today. 

He also highlighted several solutions and reforms for zoning that, in many cities across the country, are already underway. 

Gray said “the real damage” caused by highly restrictive zoning regulations is that now “it’s just illegal to build starter homes,” such as townhouses, small-lot single-family homes or two-bedroom condos, which means “young families, young households can’t get on the path to building wealth through homeownership, they can’t actually afford to stay in their community if they want to own their own home, and they have to move away. I’m sure folks in Hawaii actually feel this pretty acutely.”

During a Q&A session after the presentation, Gray stressed his belief that zoning differs from true city planning, which he said is necessary to ensure adequate public services and resources. 

“I don’t think [zoning] is a system that was well-meaning originally and then was hijacked — I don’t think it’s a system that worked particularly well and then went wrong,” he said. “I think it’s a system that was explicitly designed to entrench housing scarcity and segregation and sprawl, and the sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we can hopefully start to have a productive conversation about what would it look like to have a land use planning system that deals with the actual issues that we want to regulate.”

Audience member Gary Okuda, a local attorney currently on the state Land Use Commission, thanked Gray for sharing his thoughts. 

“In Hawaii, we need new ideas, we need open discussion,” Okuda said. “We have too many of our young people feeling that they have to live elsewhere, and we’ll get nowhere in this community unless people are willing to listen to new ideas, listen to common sense.”

IC: A National Zoning Expert Pays A Visit To The L580 Land Use Class At U. Hawaii

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