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Molokai closer to having no new short-term rentals

WAILUKU — Molokai is one step closer to having no short-term rentals on the island with the Maui County Council passing on first reading a bill to establish a zero permit cap.

The council voted unanimously Friday to recommend passage of the bill, which requires a second vote for approval.

Fourteen people on Molokai testified via phone Friday asking council members to approve the bill, saying that short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods are destroying everyday life and that adequate visitor accommodations already exist in condominiums and bed-and-breakfasts.

The lone opponent of the measure, Dayna Harris of Molokai Vacation Properties, said that 15 percent of the vacation rental business comes from local residents and their families.

If the cap is goes into effect, people will lose their jobs, including housecleaners and others who work in the vacation rental business. Harris, who has lived on the island for more than two decades, said she does not want Molokai to change but needs to generate income.

Currently, there is no cap on vacation rentals for the island. There were 17 short-term rental home permits active as of Dec. 31.

If the bill becomes law, which also requires the signature of Mayor Michael Victorino, there eventually will be no short-term rentals on Molokai, said Planning Director Michele McLean in an email prior to the meeting.

When permits for short-term rentals expire, there will be no opportunities for renewal, she said.

There are clauses for 90-day extensions under specific circumstances related to the timing of permit expiration, renewal and the enactment of the cap.

Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Molokai council residency member, said she offers “strong support” for the bill that aligns with a Molokai Planning Commission recommendation of a zero cap on short-term rentals.

Molokai resident Mahina Poepoe said short-term rental occupants pick fruit in her yard and create conflicts between local fishers and kayaking visitors. In once instance, short-term rental occupants began taking photos of her and her family as they were cleaning fish, “like a roadside amusement attraction.”

Others spoke about how short-term rental owners do not live on island, meaning the businesses are not generating income for island families.

In other business, the council:

• Approved a resolution with modifications supporting the 200-unit Keawe Street Apartments affordable rental housing project at the Villages at Leiali’i in Lahaina. Units will be available to qualified individuals earning 60 percent or below of the area median income. It will be on 28.5 acres at the intersection of Keawe Street and was being fast tracked under the state’s 201H process. Start of construction is scheduled for November with a target completion at the end of 2023.

• Approved on first reading, a resolution to place on the next general election ballot a charter amendment calling for an increase in the allocation to the Affordable Housing Fund from 2 to 3 percent of real property tax revenues, effective July 1, 2021. Raising the annual allocation by 1 percentage point would generate approximately $10.5 million.

Another reading is needed.

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

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