Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Couch seeks cap on vacation rentals

Residents testify they don’t want unruly visitors in neighborhoods

November 29, 2011
By BRIAN PERRY - City Editor (citydesk@mauinews.comThe Maui News
WAILUKU - Maui County Council Planning Committee Chairman Don Couch wanted to begin discussion Monday of a proposed limit on the number of vacation rentals on Maui. But he ran out of time and lost a quorum of committee members after more than two hours of public testimony.
Much of the testimony came from Maui Meadows residents who told council members they don't want their neighborhood overwhelmed by vacation rental businesses, with sometimes unruly visitors who hold loud parties late into the night.
Following the meeting, Couch said the residents have a legitimate concern, but he said he believes that it could be addressed by the new measure, which would make it easier for applicants to get permits for vacation rental operations while it also would shut down illegal operations and help county officials with enforcement of rules established by the County Council.
The proposed cap of 400 vacation rental operations is significantly lower than the 1,100 to 1,500 unpermitted vacation rentals believed to be in operation, according to Maui Vacation Rental Association estimates, Couch said.
He pointed out that if the 400 vacation rental cap were adopted, then hundreds of operations would need to shut down. Couch acknowledged that 400 is only a proposal, but "I cannot see a cap going up to 1,000," he said.
The proposed cap of 400 operations would break down, regionally, like this: 100 in Kihei-Makena, 88 in West Maui, 88 in Paia-Haiku, 48 in Hana, 40 in Makawao-Pukalani-Kula and 36 in Wailuku-Kahului, Couch said.
Discussion of the cap is expected to proceed when the Planning Committee returns to the issue in January, he said.
Couch said some Maui Meadows residents are concerned that most of the Kihei-Makena region's 100 vacation rentals would end up in their neighborhood. But he said his committee would consider limiting the number in Maui Meadows to anywhere from 10 to 25.
When asked how many vacation rentals exist in Maui Meadows now, Couch said one testifier put the number at 24.
Couch said there's been a lot of interest in the vacation rental measure, with requests to post a draft of the measure online. That was done, he said; however, some portions were removed while draft language was worked on by attorneys with the county Department of the Corporation Counsel.
The removed portions caused some confusion among those following the process, he said.
Under the proposed measure, vacation rental owners would have to be accessible 24 hours per day and live within 20 miles of the property they are renting out. If the owner does not live in Maui County, he or she would be required to designate a manager who would have a home or office within 20 miles and hold an active Hawaii real estate license.
The committee is expected to take months to draft a bill that would establish regulations, enforcement and a permitting process to allow short-term rentals in residential areas.
Couch said the simplified application process would end with the county planning director making the final decision on a permit. However, applications might come before the Maui Planning Commission if there were opposition from neighbors or if there were another vacation rental within 500 feet of the applicant.
An applicant who receives a short-term rental permit would need to comply with a set of rules, Couch said. Otherwise, it would be "easy to lose a permit."
Also, because the permit process would be simplified, there should be "no excuse not to have a permit," he said, and the county should find it easier to enforce the new ordinance and close down illegal operations.
* Brian Perry can be reached at citydesk@mauinews.com.

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