Residents: ‘Losing’ community has its cost

Panel votes to cut cap, restrict future north shore coastal permits for short-term rentals

Paia resident Nicole Hokoana testifies in support of a bill that would reduce the cap on short-term rental homes in the Paia and Haiku areas and restrict future coastal homes from applying. Hokoana said visitors have ample access to resort areas such as Napili, Makena and Wailea, and local communities such as Paia are forever altered when short-term rentals move in. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photos

PAIA — Concerned about the costs that come from losing community, residents Wednesday night voiced opposition to short-term rentals in Paia and Haiku that are often second homes for wealthy individuals who don’t reside on Maui.

“I used to know all my neighbors — when we used to have trick or treats, every single house participated. I knew everybody,” said testifier Nohelani U’u-Hodgins of Paia. “It’s not just about enforcing bad behavior (with illegal rentals). . . . It’s about losing our sense of community where we live.”

The County Council Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee signaled support for greater restrictions on short-term-rental homes when it voted 7-0 Wednesday night to recommend two bills that would decrease the amount of allowable permitted short-term rental homes in Paia and Haiku from 88 to 55. The new cap of 55 reflects 44 existing short-term-rental permits, nine pending and two open spots for Haiku and Paia, council officials said.

The bills also would restrict future homes along the Paia and Haiku coastline, within the special management area, from applying for short-term-rental or bed-and-breakfast permits. The Paia-Haiku Community Plan calls for avoiding “proliferation” of visitor accommodations and “subsequent changes in the character of the region’s coast.”

Existing short-term rentals and bed-and-breakfasts with permits are not impacted and permit renewal applications will not be affected by the bills, county officials said.

Tamara Paltin, chairwoman of the Maui County Council’s Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee, speaks as other panelists and council members look on during a public meeting on short-term rental homes in Paia and Haiku on Wednesday night at the Paia Community Center.

The community plan and county law require that B&Bs are owner-occupied. Currently, there are 49 permitted B&Bs in Haiku and Paia. However, county law doesn’t require short-term rentals to have on-site owner presence; the owner may live off island and rent the property, according to Planning Director Michele McLean.

Paia B&B owner Rob Hilbun, an electrical contractor who said it took two months shy of 20 years to obtain a B&B permit through the county, said B&Bs should not be grouped with short-term vacation rentals because the latter is “totally not right.”

“We’ve got the thing going on in Wailea, I work over there in houses that nobody lives in, houses that are just incredible,” he said. “Rich people are banking their money now, buying properties just so their money is in property and not in a bank. That’s happening all over . . . displacing people all over.”

The measures will be updated and sent to the full council for two readings, possibly this month. If approved, it heads to the mayor for his signature.

Led by Chairwoman Tamara Paltin, the County Council panel heard more than two hours of public testimony from two dozen residents with about 50 people attending the Paia Community Center evening meeting.

Greg Mebel testifies against a bill that would reduce the cap on short-term rental homes in Paia and Haiku, saying that the Planning Department permit process for those applicants is already rigorous and allows for community review.

Some advocated for the short-term-rental industry, saying restrictions for future applicants along the coast would force an important visitor option underground. They also said there is no need to reduce the cap, since already strict Maui Planning Commission permit procedures involve community feedback and other forms of vetting.

“Why we are talking about changing the number is irrelevant because it’s already so rigorous,” said Greg Mebel, who opposed the bill reducing the short-term-rental cap. “Let neighbors come in for each individual application and decide about the character of their neighborhood.”

“Prohibition doesn’t work — it will force everything underground, it gives people no option to become legal,” he added.

Jen Russo, Maui Vacation Rental Association executive director, also testified about potential downsides to greater short-term-rental restrictions. She pointed to recent Hawaii Tourism Authority data that showed short-term-rental homes and B&B usage on the rise for visitors and said the vacation rental industry makes up nearly 30 percent of the county’s real property tax revenue, with $101.4 million collected by the county this year.

“Our legal, permitted system allows our county to meet this demand and properly tax and benefit from having that industry on our island,” she said, asking that coastal applicants be allowed and that the cap remains the same. “If we want to have control over properties on the coastline, the strict application process already has triggers that deny the approval of applications that change the character of that place. . . . More properties will seek illegal methods of running a vacation rental to meet this demand.”

Paia residents, though, some whose families trace back generations, said that living near to a short-term rental is impossible to understand unless experienced first-hand.

“Only the people who are surrounded by short-term rentals can truly tell you how they feel,” said Francine “Aunty Mopsy” Aarona, who lives near Paia Inn. “I invite all of you to come visit me. . . . I am surrounded by them. Some good; some not so good.”

During a break, Aarona showed photos of people allegedly trespassing on her property earlier in the day to access the shoreline.

Nicole Hokoana of Paia said she has no sympathy for people who have short-term rentals because it irreversibly changes the character of a place.

“I’m not sorry. I don’t feel sympathy for people who have these businesses. There are plenty of places in Kihei, in Kaanapali, from the Napili coast all the way to Makena — there is plenty of shoreline that is reserved for visitors that want to come here. And yet people are arguing that . . . tourists want to stay in our rural areas. . . . Does that change the fabric of this community? Absolutely.”

There is an inconsistency between the community plan and the county law.

The Haiku-Paia Community Plan, approved in 1995, limits visitor accommodations to owner-occupied B&B establishments that are residential in both scale and character, according to McLean. The plan also said B&Bs should not be situated near the shoreline “so as to avoid the proliferation of this use and subsequent changes in the character of the region’s coast.”

However, the community plan did not address short-term-rental homes.

In 2012, council members adopted a short-term-rental home law that paved the way for permitted units countywide and established caps for each community plan region.

After the law was adopted, the Planning Department started issuing short-term-rental-home permits but continued to note the conflict between the older community plan and the newer county law.

Within the last few years, the department has held up approval on short-term-rental-home permits, McLean said, so the inconsistencies could be reconciled.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.