Committee defers action on Molokai short-term rentals

Residents oppose bill that would allow 25 rentals and grandfather existing ones

WAILUKU — More than a dozen Molokai residents voiced their opposition Tuesday to a bill pending before a Maui County Council committee. The measure would cap short-term rental homes on Molokai at 25 and grandfather current permitted short-term rental homes.

Residents said the proliferation of short-term homes has and will continue affecting local life on the island. They said they preferred a version of the bill recommended by the Molokai Planning Commission last year. That version set the short-term rental home permits cap at zero. And, it would not allow new permits. The cap in the latest version of the bill in the council’s Land Use Committee would raise the limit to 25. It also has a provision that there would be no new short-term rental homes in the East Molokai area.

The committee ran out of time Tuesday afternoon and deferred the matter.

Currently, there are 19 permitted short-term rental homes on Molokai, according to Planning Director Michele McLean. Four are in West Molokai; seven in central; and eight in east, she said outside the meeting. There is one pending in central and two pending in East Molokai.

The latest version of the bill would set a cap at 25 for West and Central Molokai. There will be zero new short-term home rentals allowed in East Molokai.

Existing permits could be renewed under current requirements. Pending applications deemed complete by the Planning Department prior to enactment of the bill could be issued but not renewed, McLean said.

But residents who testified via phone opposed the current version of the bill, saying they wanted to see a zero cap on short-term rental homes and that currently permitted short-term rentals should not be allowed.

Resident Bridget Mowat said families “have to deal with strangers in our community.”

“We have designated areas for visitors,” she said, noting there are condominiums and Hotel Molokai.

Mowat said many of the short-term home rental owners are not permanent residents of Molokai but own homes so they have a place to stay when they visit. But the, rest of the time, they rent out their homes.

“Why do we have to change our lifestyle to support a Mainland resident?” she asked.

Mahina Poepoe added that there is no report that good jobs are created from short-term rentals. She said she knows of someone who is a housekeeper for a short-term rental, but it is still not enough “to pay bills.” Rather, that person sells lau lau plates to get by.

Robert Stephenson, the only Molokai resident who testified via phone in support of the bill, said he believed that having a cap of 25 short-term rentals and not allowing new short-term rentals in East Molokai was a “good compromise.”

He noted that at one time the cap on short-term home rentals was 40, but it then went down to zero with the recommendation of the Molokai Planning Commission.

He called the short-term rental industry important to the island economy, providing jobs and leading to visitor spending on the island.

Molokai Planning Commission Chairwoman Lori Buchanan said she spent $435 to show up in person on Maui to testify because the issue is important to the community.

She said the commission recommended capping short-term rentals at zero, saying she didn’t know where the 25 short-term rental home cap came about later in the council committee.

But she added that, even though testifiers were calling for zero short-term rental homes, the current 19 permitted short-term home rentals would remain until permits expire or are not valid. That was put in as a “compromise,” in the commission’s recommendation to the council, she said.

Testifier Tom Croly got a council member riled up along with some Molokai residents when he said that those who think that they can do away with short-term rentals are living in “La-la land.”

Croly, who owns a vacation rental on Maui and was testifying on behalf of himself, said that he wasn’t advocating for the rentals, but he said that the rentals are all over the world.

People will have to live with them, but having them properly regulated is key, he said. He added that he advocates for the rentals being legal.

Council Member Stacy Crivello, who holds the Molokai residency seat, said she was trying to understand why Croly said residents were in La-la land, noting that residents have been saying they do not want the short-term rentals.

She later added that she didn’t appreciate Croly’s point on the subject.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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