Panel moves to allow north shore vacation rentals

County Council will need to amend current Paia-Haiku Community Plan, which prohibits short-term rentals

County Department of Planning Director Will Spence addresses the Maui Planning Commission on Tuesday. The commission voted 5-1 to recommend changing the 1995 Paia-Haiku Community Plan to allow for short-term rentals. The community plan had been at odds with the Maui County Code, which gave the Paia-Haiku area an 88 short-term rental cap in 2012. The issue now moves on to the Maui County Council. • The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

WAILUKU — With most people speaking out in favor of allowing short-term rental homes, the Maui Planning Commission voted 5-1 Tuesday to recommend keeping the cap of 88 permitted short-term rentals for the Paia-Haiku area.

It’s an issue that’s been circulating through the community since July, when it first came before the commission. The panel was saddled with a decision of whether to change the 1995 Paia-Haiku Community Plan, which doesn’t allow for short-term rentals, or the Maui County Code, which permits 88. The discrepancy between the two documents went unnoticed until recently.

On Tuesday, the commission decided to recommend council members approve a bill to change the community plan and allow short-term rentals. However, commission members also recommended adding a provision to the County Code to avoid a short-term rental boom on the shoreline.

The issue now moves on to the County Council, which will make the final call.

“Prohibition doesn’t work,” commissioner Lawrence Carnicelli said. “As one of the testifiers said, if we change the law to zero (rentals), we’re not going to stop vacation rentals on the north shore. . . . I think that we need to have a law in place to make these things legal so we can regulate them.”

The difference between the community plan and the county code for short-term rentals was overlooked in 2012, when the council passed an ordinance allowing transient rentals in the community. As part of the new law, council members placed a short-term rental cap on each region. The Paia-Haiku area received an 88-rental cap and currently has 47 permitted, according to county Planning Director Will Spence.

Spence said that when the short-term rental bill was passed in 2012, no one really discussed how the bill would be at odds with the community plan, which was adopted in 1995 and only allows for bed-and-breakfast homes, which unlike short-term rentals, must have an owner on site. Planning staff members realized the problem after later reviewing minutes of council meetings.

So, the issue was brought before the commission this year. Two community meetings were held in Paia and Haiku in August. Resident responses have been split, from those who say short-term rental owners take good care of their properties and don’t bother neighbors, to others who believe the rentals are subtracting from the local housing inventory.

But on Tuesday, the nearly 20 testifiers mostly took issue with illegal rentals and said that permitted operators should be allowed to move forward.

“The problem isn’t the people who’ve gone through the process and are adhering to the rules,” said James Huntington, a Paia resident who got approved for a bed-and-breakfast business last summer. “The problem is that there are more illegal rentals than there are legal rentals.”

Huelo resident Mark Vrieling said he’s been working to get his rental approved for seven years now and has invested more than $10,000 in property improvements.

“After going to that much effort, to think that we could be shut down now because you draw the line at only those that are existing seems unfair on a personal standpoint,” Vrieling said. “But on the bigger standpoint, 88 is still very, very few for all of the north shore.”

Commission members agreed to keep the 88-rental cap, but suggested splitting Paia and Haiku into separate categories. They also hoped the council would discuss ways to improve enforcement on illegal rentals.

One of the two recommended bills moving on to the council changes the community plan to say the following: “Limit visitor accommodations to permitted short-term rental homes and owner-occupied bed-and-breakfast homes that are residential in both scale and character. Any proposed new bed-and-breakfast homes or short-term rental homes should not be situated near the shoreline if it causes the proliferation of these uses and subsequent changes in the character of the region’s coast. Illegal visitor accommodations can diminish the availability and affordability of housing for residents and should be subject to strict enforcement action.”

The other recommended bill doesn’t change the 88-rental cap in the county code but adds a provision saying that “permits may not be issued for shoreline properties if it causes the proliferation of these uses and subsequent changes in the character of the region’s coast.”

Commissioners did not decide whether “proliferation” would follow its dictionary definition or a specific number, though that is something the council can take up.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper?


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today