WAILUKU - Maui County Council members voted Tuesday to give initial approval to a bill that would establish new regulations for short-term rentals.
A majority of council members agreed that the legislation would strike a balance between protecting residential areas from disruptive guests at vacation rentals and creating a permit process that would not be too onerous for owners. But several also expressed concern that the bill would be undermined if the county doesn't set aside adequate resources for enforcement.
"We have to start somewhere," said Council Member Don Couch. "This looks like a good start."
Council members voted 7-2 to pass the bill at first reading, with Council Members Riki Hokama and Elle Cochran voting "no."
But the council also agreed to postpone the bill's second and final reading until May 18, after the council's annual budget deliberations. Several council members said they were reluctant to give the bill final approval until it was clear that additional enforcement officers would be budgeted.
The legislation would allow a simplified application process for short-term rental operations to become legal, while strengthening the Planning Department's ability to take action against unpermitted operators.
The council previously passed regulations for bed-and-breakfast operations, which have an owner or property manager onsite. This legislation would establish a process for short-term rentals, or transient vacation rentals, in which there is no manager at the property.
Under the legislation, a property manager would have to live within 30 miles of the rental's location and be able to respond to a complaint in an hour; each vacation rental would be limited to six bedrooms; and properties would be required to provide off-street parking for renters.
Applicants for a vacation-rental permit also would be required to display a 4-foot-square sign informing passers-by that an application had been submitted, and neighbors within 500 feet would have to be notified directly of the application.
The bill also would set a cap of 100 short-term rentals in the Kihei-Makena area, 88 in West Maui, 88 in Paia-Haiku, 48 in Hana, 40 in Makawao-Pukalani-Kula and 36 in Wailuku-Kahului.
Couch said the bill represented a "very good compromise" between groups on all sides of the issue.
"This is a balanced bill," he said.
Council Member Gladys Baisa agreed.
"I think we have before us a bill that will work," she said. "I think it's a real step forward. It certainly is progressive. Yes there are concerns, but I think the only way to know is to go ahead with the best effort we can put forward."
Council Member Mike White said creating a process to legalize vacation rentals was important for the economy of his district of Makawao-Haiku-Paia.
"There's a lot of people whose jobs were lost or businesses were hurt when vacation rentals were shut down a number of years ago," he said.
But Hokama said he remained concerned that the bill would undermine the county's zoning code because it would allow commercial activities and vacation rentals in residential areas. He also questioned whether the county had the resources to enforce the bill.
"Both sides felt that without enforcement the policy may go astray and create a bigger problem than resolving the problem," he said.
Cochran, who previously voted against the bill, also favored keeping the existing rules in place and increasing enforcement.
"I didn't support it, and I won't support it again," she said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions."
Community members on both sides of the issue shared their views with the council.
Thomas Croly of the Maui Vacation Rental Association said his group supported regulations that would keep poorly managed vacation rentals in check.
"We feel this ordinance strikes the right balance between protecting neighborhoods and not being so onerous in its regulations to discourage compliance," he said.
Carol Reimann, executive director of the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, said offering a "diverse mix of choices" in visitor accommodations was an important part of Maui's tourism economy.
"This diversity gives Maui a competitive edge by appealing to a wide range of visitor types," she said.
She said her group wanted to see vacation rentals regulated and taxed on par with hotels and resorts to ensure a "level playing field" in the visitor industry.
But Bud Pikrone, general manager of the Wailea Community Association, said his organization was against the bill because it would allow vacation rentals in areas that were intended to be residential.
People buy homes in residential neighborhoods because they want to be part of a long-term community, he said.
"This bill erases that security, that sense of place, that dream - all for a small number of people, many of whom don't even live on Maui," he said.
Resident Bill Gundry agreed, saying the legislation was "totally against the spirit and the letter of what residential zoning is all about."
But Baisa told colleagues and the public that the new regulations would help resolve a conflict that had been brewing since the 1990s.
"No matter what we decide, it's already going on," she said. "It's kind of a 'Don't ask, don't tell' situation. We can turn a blind eye, but this is going on and we have to have a method to control it, and that's what this measure is."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.