HAIKU - Since Maui County's new bed-and-breakfast permitting system took effect a year ago, the Planning Department has processed and approved more than twice as many permits for the rentals as it did in the previous 11 years, Planning Director Jeff Hunt said.
After months of political debate and years of pressure from the visitor industry, the Maui County Council last year approved a new ordinance covering bed-and-breakfasts. The law takes the time- and wallet-chewing special use permit approval process out of the hands of County Council members.
The planning director now has authority to approve B&B permit applications outside of the hotel/resort districts, except on agricultural land.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
A sign shows the location of a proposed bed-and-breakfast on Kokomo Road in Haiku. Sylvia Lindig’s “Haiku Hale” became the latest bed-and-breakfast to obtain a permit, when the Maui Planning Commission approved her application earlier this month.
In those instances, the application goes to the island's planning commission for approval and must have a state-approved farm plan.
Perhaps the most notable changes in the law are the provisions that property owners can either rent out their own home or an ohana unit on the property as a B&B, as long as they live on-site, rent out no more than six rooms and provide breakfast in the morning.
The new law also sets a cap of 400 for the total number of B&Bs allowed on the Valley Isle. Molokai and Lanai can set their own standards.
Since the law went live in January, would-be B&B operators have filled out 61 applications, Hunt said.
Thirty-three have been approved since the department began processing permits under the new system in March.
Including rentals that predate the legal change, Maui now has a total of 44 bed-and-breakfasts.
"I believe the numbers sort of speak for themselves," Hunt said. "It's working pretty well, and I've heard a lot of positive comments."
Earlier this month, the Maui Planning Commission approved its most recent agricultural zone permit to Sylvia Lindig of 1640 Kokomo Road in Haiku.
Lindig is an architect. However, a stroke and the stalled construction industry forced her to pin her financial hopes on a B&B to help her get through the recession, she said.
She appreciates the end result, "but it was very difficult because of the constant different information given to us from the county," Lindig said.
She said the troubles included one-of-a-kind documents lost by the county and having to defend herself against an anonymous and erroneous complaint that she and her husband were operating a B&B without a permit. In fact, they only built the three-bedroom cottage last year, and in the meantime, the couple has been renting it out long-term, she said.
Her husband, Robert Jeffcoat, said despite the challenges, he knows that the B&B application process today is much simpler than what it was.
"I think it's been great," said Maui Planning Commission Member Jonathan Starr. "I'm happy to see them get approved, as long as there is no community opposition. For the most part, the new law has enabled families to stay on their land, keep their homes and to do ag. And that was the intent."
Hunt said that many of the new B&B operators were former transient vacation rental operators who were forced to close when Mayor Charmaine Tavares cracked down on unpermitted B&Bs and transient vacation rentals - in which the owner does not live on the property - which were located illegally in residential neighborhoods rather than hotel/resort districts, where TVRs and B&Bs are allowed without permits.
For all the knocks on Tavares for her tough stance, many county officials have said regular folks support the mayor. At least Maui County allows TVRs and B&Bs to exist legally, some of those same people said.
The small businesses are illegal in Honolulu, and despite widespread use of both B&Bs and TVRs (and a lack of effective enforcement), the Honolulu City and County Council has refused as recently as this month to even begin serious discussions about resolving the hot-button topic.
Hunt said he believes the county's new B&B approval process - and the tanking economy - have combined to alleviate much of the criticism Tavares has endured for cracking down on vacation rentals.
"Clearly, the community doesn't support TVRs as much as B&Bs," said Hunt, who said his office regularly handles complaints from neighbors about scofflaw or negligent TVR owners.
The County Council still is expected to revamp the TVR ordinance in the coming year. But that might take a while, since elected officials must first complete the annual budget this spring and also wrap up the long-awaited 2030 General Plan before amending the TVR ordinance.
Links to the 17-page amended B&B ordinance as well as the 22-page bed-and-breakfast application can be found online at www.co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?NID=1206.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.