Tucked away on an 8-acre parcel of agriculturally zoned land in Waimanalo, South Shore Christian Fellowship meets in an old ranch on Sunday mornings to host church services.

Last Sunday, nearly 100 churchgoers sat in chairs and bleachers of an open building while a white horse ran in the pasture behind Pastor Bud Stonebraker. The sounds of children playing in nearby stables accompanied the sermon.

But the gathering, like every Sunday, was illegal.

South Shore Christian Fellowship meets — illegally — at The Ranch in Waimanalo every Sunday. Katie Boon/Civil Beat

Waimanalo zoning allows nonagricultural use of farmland — but only with a permit, said Kathy Sokugawa, director of the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting.

“The church didn’t get a permit,” said Sokugawa. “They are continuing to do something illegal every time they meet.”

And now Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson wants to put a stop to any new nonagricultural uses of the land.

To protect farm lots from development, Anderson wants to create an agricultural special district in Waimanalo. Resolution 18-82, proposed last month, would not permit new uses other than agricultural within the district, which would include more than 300 parcels.

Out of the seven special districts in Oahu, six are on the south shore and one is north in Haleiwa. The Waimanalo district would be the first with the purpose of maintaining agricultural land.

Anderson was not available for comment. His senior advisor, Gail Myers, said that existing permits would not be affected.

Nalo Farms across the street from The Ranch at the base of the Koolaus. Katie Boon/Civil Beat

In the case of South Shore Christian Fellowship, the church received a notice of violation in October 2016. This escalated to an order in July that imposed daily fines of $50 on the church. As of Sunday, a total of $15,550 is owed to the city.

Stonebraker said he has been trying to get a permit ever since acquiring the parcel know as The Ranch two years ago, but that it has been difficult since the neighboring parcels were sold under a joint development agreement. Landowners of the other three parcels within the JDA must agree to developments on each other’s land. He says that he is trying to get The Ranch removed from the agreement so that he can get the required permit. 

“We respect the law,” said Stonebraker. “We want to comply and are continuing to try to get the permit.”

Stonebraker said the church uses a majority of the land agriculturally and that most of the yields are returned to community members. Eggs are available for attendees on Sunday mornings and are also delivered to cancer survivors, he said. The two-hour church meetings utilize use less than 10 percent of the land, he added. 

A horse at The Ranch rests in the shade during a church service. Katie Boon/Civil Beat

South Shore Christian Fellowship is not the only nonagricultural entity operating in Waimanalo.

“There’s a lot of things, like prisons and helicopter pads,” said Mark Fukui, president of the Waimanalo Agricultural Association. “By being able to narrow the land use ordinance, over time, it will protect farms.”

Fukui said he is surprised that there aren’t more farms on agriculturally zoned land in Waimanalo. 

Resolution 18-82 is awaiting a hearing before the Committee on Zoning and Housing, which is chaired by Councilwoman Kymberly Pine. If the full council ultimately approved the resolution, a bill for an ordinance would be drafted.

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