Paul Laub, 64, said he likes to work with his hands: "I'll do anything legal, profitable and fun."
Over the years, the west-side resident has owned stores and rebuilt homes, but he ran into some trouble with the county on the legal part of his outlook - at least as far as Maui County officials are concerned.
In the last few years, he'd transformed his hobby of rebuilding old bicycles into a business he conducted out of his home at 600 Front St. in Lahaina.
Because of existing ordinances outlawing most home-based businesses in residential areas - and an anonymous complaint and subsequent visits from Planning Department inspectors - Laub said he had to find storefront space and extra capital to move his Recycled Bikes and Boards shop down to 1217 Front St. in the business district.
"I'll sell a bike for 30 bucks and then guarantee it for life," he said. "It's not like I'm paying the mortgage that way, but we do cover the (store's) rent."
However, Planning Department Director Jeff Hunt has proposed a bill that would repeal part of the Maui County Code governing home-based businesses, or home occupations, as they're often called. If it passes the Maui County Council, the bill could give the go-ahead for Laub to move his business back into his home.
"The bill is what I like to call home occupations on steroids," Hunt said in an interview last week. "With this bill, we're trying to provide for economic development while still protecting the peace and tranquility of our neighborhoods."
Since the economy tanked, several County Council members, the Maui Chamber of Commerce, would-be entrepreneurs and Mayor Charmaine Tavares have been part of the chorus calling for looser rules on home-based businesses, which critics said have been slow to come and not far-reaching enough. The bill also has a nondescriptive title that makes it hard to notice and slipped under the radar without any publicity, so Hunt is now trying to get the word out to the public.
The idea is to help jump-start the economy by incubating small businesses and giving out-of-work people or professionals and craftspeople who can't afford office space other options, Hunt said. Hopefully, once the businesses grow, the entrepreneurs will move into commercial space, he said.
The wide-ranging bill will go before the Maui Planning Commission for review Tuesday morning before it would move on to the County Council.
It also includes provisions that allow for homeowners to install more solar panels and wind generators to encourage the local production of energy, as well as a restriction meant to curb people from building giant homes that fill an entire lot and don't fit into the character of a neighborhood, he said.
Hunt said he based the home-based business section of the bill on similar existing ordinances in Portland, Ore., Honolulu and the Big Island.
This is the meat of what the Planning Department would allow under the proposal:
* County-permitted bed-and-breakfasts.
* One nonfamily-member employee.
* Up to eight customers a day.
* Operations between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
* Retail sales of products produced by the homeowner, such as baked goods and clothing alterations.
* Deliveries to and from the home.
The proposed ordinance does not affect businesses already OK'd in residential districts, such as child- and adult-care centers and flower and plant nurseries.
The amendments to Maui County Code section 19.04 are targeted for low-key businesses, such as accountants, real estate agents, attorneys, piano teachers, hairstylists and people who create arts and crafts for swap meets, Hunt and Tavares said. Some of the changes clarify and streamline the existing home occupations ordinance, they said.
Council members have said they expect some controversy from residents who don't want the extra traffic or parking problems in their neighborhoods, while some also have noted that the economic impact could be minimal since it may just legitimize businesses already being conducted out of homes.
Hunt said the bill also has a list of what's not allowed:
* Engine or auto repair.
* Any repairs, manufacturing or processing that produce noise, dust, smoke, glare or odors.
* Business signs or exterior building changes to accommodate or advertise the business.
* More than two customers at a time.
* A business that takes up more than 25 percent of the home's floor space.
* Group sales meetings or instructional classes, with the possible exception for small hula halau.
* Contractor dispatch centers.
* Retail sales of products not made by the home business.
* Storage of goods or materials in public sight.
* Dog kennels or raising of any pets for sale.
Finally, the bill contains the catch-all sentence: "That the home-based business shall not impact the residential character of the property or neighborhood."
"I've been a proponent of this for years back when I was on the council (from 1997-2006)," Tavares said. "We've wanted to address the home occupation question for a number of reasons beyond even economic development: so single parents can watch their kids at home, to a reduction in commuter traffic. As long as the businesses have no impact, I don't see why they can't be in residential districts."
She said the bill got hung up only as the administration dealt with other legislation meant to legalize bed-and-breakfasts and transient vacation rentals in residential, rural and agricultural districts.
However, the mayor's critics have said her hard-nosed stance in which she banned nonpermitted B&Bs and TVRs created an unnecessary tourism downturn and governmental bottleneck.
The B&B ordinance passed last year, but the County Council has not yet addressed TVRs, which are vacation rentals in which the owner does not live on property. Council members probably won't touch it in the near future as they start to take up the long-awaited updates to the county's General Plan, which is a complex master planning process to establish a host of guidelines for the next 20 years.
So it also remains unclear how the council will find the time to debate the home-based business bill.
However, council members Mike Victorino and Gladys Baisa have been outspoken proponents of the changes, which will likely go before Chairman Sol Kaho'ohalahala's Council Planning Committee next, which is handling TVRs and the General Plan as well.
Laub said it doesn't matter; it wouldn't work for him anyway. He has two full-time employees and would have to lay off one, something he's loath to do, he said.
Hunt said there is a system in place for people to go before county officials and request variances to accommodate their businesses.
Considering how difficult the variance process tends to be, though, Laub said he's just as reluctant to take that step so he can move his bike shop back home.
"The county should have the philosophy to try to help people to work," Laub said. "They should take a positive stance and make things happen right now when we need them."
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.