Ask the Mayor

Mayor Alan Arakawa answers some of the most-asked questions submitted to his office staff.

Q: I have been saving money to build a house and would like to find out what I’m allowed to build, as well as what the height and setback restrictions are for my area. Is there a way to access this information online?

A: Yes, the Maui County Code, which contains the answers to the questions you’re asking, is available through our county website. If you know already the zoning of your property, you can visit, and click on the Quick Link tab on the far right: “County Code — Title 19 — Zoning.” Then click on Article II, “Comprehensive Zoning,” to look up the permitted uses, height regulations, building setbacks and other requirements for residential districts. If you don’t know your property’s zoning, you can call the Planning Department at 270-7735 or visit the planning offices located at One Main Plaza (2200 Main St., Suite 315, Wailuku). Please have your tax map key number and/or the physical address of your property. You should be aware that other designations may also apply, such as community plan, Maui Island Plan, state land use district and other special districts. Planning staff can advise you whether any of these apply to your property.

Q: I drive down my street every day and worry about the huge trees hanging over the road. Who is responsible for trimming or removing them? Also, the sidewalk is broken, creating a hazard from the roots.

A: You have asked a very good question. From your question, I am assuming the tree is located on a county right of way. If so, the responsibility of tree maintenance belongs to the county arborist. The county arborist is housed within the Department of Parks and Recreation. In this incident, since the tree has caused damage to the sidewalk, the Department of Public Works would be involved in the repair of the sidewalk. After the Parks Department has performed maintenance on the tree roots, Public Works would then repair the sidewalk. Effective July 1, the county arborist will be housed in the Public Works Department and will be dealing with all street tree issues.

Q: Will you please explain to the public exactly what the laws are for cellphone usage when driving. What exactly is considered “hands-free?” If you are on a private, not on county or state, road, do those laws still apply? What are the laws about texting? What are the fines?

A: I had my staff follow up with the Maui Police Department regarding your question, and the department provided the following information. According to the Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 291-137, mobile electronic devices, no person shall operate a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device. The use of a mobile electronic device for the sole purpose of making a “911” emergency communication shall be an affirmative defense to this law. No person under 18 years of age shall operate a motor vehicle while utilizing a hands-free mobile electronic device, except for the sole purpose of making a “911” emergency communication. Drivers of vehicles that are at a complete stop, while the engine is turned off, in a safe location by the side of the road out of the way of traffic are exempt.

“Hands-free” simply means not holding anything within the vehicle operator’s hand. An example of a hands-free device would be a Bluetooth earpiece that attaches to a person’s ear, thereby leaving that person’s hands empty/unoccupied. The laws do not apply to driveways or roads on private property; however, they do apply to and can be enforced on privately owned roadways open to the public, such as Eha Street and Waiale Drive in Wailuku. If someone is operating a vehicle and texting while holding their mobile electronic device, that would be a violation. If the mobile electronic device was affixed to some sort of vehicle mount (windshield mount) and the operator was texting without actually holding the device, that would not be a violation. The fines are $297 for using a mobile electronic device while driving; $347 for doing so in a school or construction zone; $257 for being a minor driver using a mobile device while driving; and $307 for a minor doing so in a school or construction zone.

* Want to Ask the Mayor? Submit your Maui County related questions to Mayor Alan Arakawa by email at, by phone at 270-7855 or by mail at 200 S. High St., ninth floor, Wailuku 96793. Questions submitted will be considered for inclusion in the “Ask the Mayor” column; to request a personal response to a concern, email