Planning Commission denies permit to Paia Inn owner

Baskin’s history with the county caused panel to block current bid

The Maui Planning Commission denied a special use permit so that Michael Baskin could legally operate the Paia Inn as a transient accommodation. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — The Maui Planning Commission on Tuesday unanimously denied Paia businessman Michael Baskin a special use permit to operate his nine-bedroom transient vacation rental, the Paia Inn.

Commissioners said Baskin’s previous problems with the county were a reason for denying the permit. In late July 2015, the county levied fines and violations totaling $500,000 against Baskin, the largest amount ever levied by the Maui County Department of Planning. Baskin violated laws concerning short-term rentals, special management areas, zoning and building codes. Baskin still owes the county $190,000; he said Tuesday that it will be paid next month and that he had been granted an extension until then.

Planning Director William Spence told The Maui News last week that since the settlement, new violations have come up: Baskin has opened up a cafe at the inn without adding the required parking stalls and obtaining proper permits; signs were also put up without permits.

Every commissioner, except Chairman Max Tsai (who doesn’t vote unless there is a tie) gave their reasons for the denial, which included community opposition to the Paia Inn, which some see as a hotel, along with Baskin and his family’s  multiple short-term rentals in Paia and issues with Baskin’s character.

Commissioner Stephen Castro Sr. said: “I can’t see how you can continue to operate illegally, be in arrears of $190,000. I just don’t see it. I don’t see why there should be (privilege) to continue to operate.”

Commissioner Richard Higashi said he felt he was getting the runaround when asking Baskin questions, saying “the applicant should be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ ” and not beat around the bush.

Commissioner Lawrence Carnicelli pointed out that Baskin said a brochure that advertised several properties for sale was a draft and it wasn’t sent out to the public. But a testifier pointed out that a Pacific Business News article showed otherwise and Carnicelli looked up the story during the meeting to confirm there was a sale advertised with Baskin quoted in the article.

During the 4 1/2-hour meeting, Baskin explained that many of the violations and fines were due to the property’s age and that many of the types of uses were grandfathered into the properties. But he said that if he found out that he needed to seek a  permit, he would do so after the fact.

He pointed out that under a bill passed two years ago by the Maui County Council, he is allowed to have up to 12 transient vacation rentals in Paia town. He said the motive for the bill was to push the TVRs into business districts.

While testifiers and commissioners spoke to the community plan, which does not allow hotels in the area, Baskin said the plan is about 21 years old and pointed to the more recent ordinance that pushed TVRs into business districts.

Baskin said he has one short-term rental home in Paia town and two other short-term rentals belong to his father and mother that he manages.

Baskin and his supporters said they have been treated unfairly by the county and allege they have to jump through more hoops than others to receive their permits. Some of the 35 or so employees of the inn, which include landscapers who also take care of the other short-term rentals, say that they make sure they clean up their properties, as well as neighboring properties.

Francine Aarona, a longtime Paia resident who lives next to one of Baskin’s properties, asked for a denial of his application.

She said that when Baskin bought the property, he told her that it would be for his parents, who wanted to move from Upcountry to someplace warmer. But then she found out that the home was made into a rental when she saw tourists there.

“So that saga begins at that point on,” she said.

Aarona took issue with some of Baskin’s marketing material, in which he called a beach near her home a private beach. She said her family has strong ties to the beach, where they have scattered their ancestors’ ashes.

Another testifier, Martin Brass, a partner in the Flatbread Co. in Paia, who was testifying on his own behalf, also asked that the permit be denied.

He said although Baskin claims that there has been historic use of the Paia Inn as lodging, others have not used it as such, so there is no grandfathering of the practice.

He also said that with Baskin saying that the inn has enjoyed 15,000 bookings and has 35 employees, it’s hard to imagine that the operation is not a hotel.

During the meeting, commissioners also took up Aarona’s petition to intervene, which the commission denied.

Deputy Corporation Counsel James Giroux said that if the petition to intervene was granted, the agenda matter on the special use permit couldn’t be taken up Tuesday. The granting of the petition to intervene would set other requirements in motion first, such as mediation.

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


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