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Three Steps to Understanding Shoreline Building

Building or renovating beachfront properties in Hawaii comes with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Creating your dream home while protecting the natural beauty of the islands can be difficult, but it is also a chance to build creatively and leave a positive impact on the community. Considering building near the coastline? Here’s our go-to checklist for making the process easier and more convenient.


Step One: Know your land

  • The state of Hawaii classifies all land into four categories: urban, rural, agricultural, and conservation. In most cases, oceanside land is considered conservation property and is subject to additional regulations. Building on conservation land will almost always require a special permit, and often an additional environmental impact assessment through the state. Make sure you, your architect, and your builder are familiar with these regulations and budget both your time and finances accordingly.
  • All Hawaiian beaches are considered public property, which means your building plans will need to accommodate for beach access. Whether preserving a shoreline trail for pedestrians or maintaining a road for vehicular access, be prepared to share your ocean views with the community.

Step Two: Know the basics

Ready to design your dream home? Understanding the ground rules for building a shoreline residence will help you and your architect make the best use of your property. A few things to consider:

  • All new structures must be set back at least 40 feet from the vegetation line or cliff top.
  • Your beachside property most likely falls under dual zoning regulations: urban/residential and conservation. This means you can build a new home on the property, but cannot alter and land deemed a conservation zone, including removing view-blocking trees.
  • Renovating an older home? Older homes may be considered “legal nonconforming” structures, meaning they were built before existing regulations. But any major remodeling will require you to meet today’s standards, rendering some of your plans impossible, or outside the original scope of your budget.

Step Three: Know the exceptions

  • Shoreline erosion and conservation is an increasing priority on the islands, and Hawaii is currently creating an Integrated Shoreline Policy to establish common standards in beach conservation. Some of these regulations make building exceptions for new home construction. For instance, while most regulations prohibit seawalls or other shoreline hardening structures, homeowners can construct a seawall once the shoreline reaches within 20 feet of the home.
  • Private erosion-protection structures can also be built if they improve the aesthetics or efficiency of existing structures and do not interfere with public access or existing recreational activities along the shoreline.

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