Bill to pause hotel permits advances

Questions raised over connection to climate change

The Maui Coast Hotel in Kihei is pictured in March. A bill that proposes a moratorium on building permits for visitor accommodations in West and South Maui passed out of a Maui County Council committee on Tuesday by a 4-2 vote. It could not apply to hotels that have already gained certain approvals and entitlements for proposed expansions, such as the Maui Coast Hotel. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A Maui County Council committee on Tuesday voted to recommend approval for a bill that would place a moratorium on building permits for visitor accommodations.

Passed out of the Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee with a 4-2 vote, the measure would pause visitor accommodation development in West and in South Maui until community plans are updated or in two years, whichever is sooner. The proposal now heads to full council.

The bill, introduced by committee Chairwoman Kelly King, ties visitor accommodation development and an increase in tourism to negative impacts on the environment, saying the pause will prevent additional air, noise, light, land and water pollution until the community plans can be updated.

“The purpose of the moratorium established by this ordinance is to lower carbon-emissions levels, mitigate climate-change impacts and limit the rate of global warming by pausing visitor accommodation development and the related increase in tourism,” the bill says.

King and Council Members Gabe Johnson, Mike Molina and Shane Sinenci voted in favor of the bill, while Council Member Tamara Paltin recused herself and Council Member Tasha Kama was absent and excused. Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez is a nonvoting member of the committee.

Council Chairwoman Alice Lee and Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, the two dissenting votes, persisted with questions over how the bill is related to climate change.

“The proposed bill says the intention is to lower carbon-emission levels, mitigate climate-change impacts and limit the rate of global warming,” Lee said. “How do you quantify these items . . . and distinguish those items as caused by visitors versus those items caused by residents whether new or old?”

James Forrest, legislative attorney in the Office of Council Services who wrote the bill, said he agrees that “some of the data may not connect all the dots.”

Sugimura asked how reducing visitor accommodations will result in not adding visitors.

“How do you stop visitors from coming?” she asked.

King said that many moratoria are passed while waiting for data and deriving solutions. The pause will maintain a status quo while officials “look for solutions and receive information.”

“The bottom line is when you find yourself in a hole, the best thing to do is stop digging,” she said. “We have all recognized that we have overtourism, we have all recognized that we have a climate emergency, we’ve passed resolutions to both of those that we need solutions for. The bottom line is this bill maintains status quo and stops us from adding additional visitor accommodations until we can come up with solutions or we can figure out how we are going to lower that figure, the ratio of tourists to residents.”

The proposal also cites the Maui Island Plan, which includes a policy calling for a daily visitor population not to exceed one-third of the resident population.

“With a daily visitor census of nearly 70,000 and resident population of well under 150,000 in 2019, Maui dramatically exceeded the desired visitor-resident ratio,” the bill says.

Visitor accommodations would cover any transient accommodations, including hotels, resorts, timeshares, short-term rental homes, bed and breakfast homes and transient vacation rental units. However, King said after the meeting that the moratorium could not apply to hotels that have already gained certain approvals and entitlements for proposed expansions, such as the Maui Coast Hotel in South Maui.

On Tuesday, Planning Director Michele McLean outlined the status of various hotels and projects with potential hotel uses both in and outside of South and West Maui:

• Windward Hotel near Kahului Airport hasn’t gone through the entitlement process yet.

• The Downtown Kihei project has already received entitlements, and that includes a hotel component.

• The Research and Technology Park in Kihei received its entitlements and that includes the ability for a hotel use.

• Maui Coast’s expansion recently received an SMA major permit.

• Grand Wailea Resort’s proposed expansion has an SMA major permit that’s going through a contested case proceeding.

• Jonathan Starr’s proposed hotel in Wailuku hasn’t fully started the entitlement process yet.

Meanwhile, Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said during the meeting Tuesday that she will soon introduce a similar hotel moratorium bill that will cover the entire island.

“I have a bill that will address a lot of the concerns that the public works director, the corp counsel, the planning director, as well some of the members of the committee, have, and I plan to have that on the next council agenda,” Rawlins-Fernandez said after the vote. “It would be an islandwide moratorium for other districts that are concerned about the expansion of tourist accommodations in their district.”

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


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