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Council closer to lowering short-term rental caps

Bill passes on first reading along with measures on foam products, ziplines

A sign alerts neighbors to a short-term rental home application in Kihei in March 2020. A bill that would lower the cap on short-term rental permits allowed in each district on Maui passed on first reading Friday. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In a step to reduce short-term rentals on Maui and open up more housing for residents, the Maui County Council passed a bill on first reading Friday to cut the number of short-term rental home permits on the Valley Isle.

The council voted 7-0, with Council Members Gabe Johnson and Tasha Kama excused, to give the green light to the measure, which members said could help the housing crunch for residents and alleviate problems that some rentals have caused in neighborhoods.

The Planning Department said earlier this month that there were approximately 217 permitted short-term rental home operations in the county, about 50 percent of which are owned by out-of-state residents.

Under the bill, those who had a permit or submitted an application before July 2 would remain status quo, but any applications submitted after July 2 would be subject to the new caps, which would be, by district: Hana, 15; Kihei-Makena, 45; Makawao-Pukalani-Kula, 15; Paia-Haiku, 48; Wailuku-Kahului, six; and West Maui, 50.

Council Member Tamara Paltin, chair of the Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee that vetted the bill, made adjustments to some of the caps Friday due to updated information about applications from the Planning Department. The Kihei-Makena permit cap was changed from 46 to 45, while the Paia-Haiku cap increased from 47 to 48 and the Makawao-Pukalani-Kula cap went from 14 to 15.

Paltin said the bill is a step to reduce the short-term rentals and hopes that people will look to rent for the long term.

“I really would encourage folks who do have a second home to consider our local families. Consider it as an investment in our community when you rent to local people,” Paltin said.

She added that she is supportive of those wanting to have a small business of renting out their homes short term, but at this time, the community needs long-term rentals.

Residents have long sought to limit short-term rentals that some say have caused problems in neighborhoods with traffic, noise and no owners on site to handle problems.

But those who own and/or operate short-term rentals say that the units pay high property taxes and provide a way to pay the mortgage.

They also said the permits are heavily vetted by the county and require neighbor approval.

Another bill that was proposed in response to neighborhood complaints passed on second and final reading on Friday. The measure would require a conditional permit for canopy tour, zipline and bungee operations in county agricultural districts on Maui and Lanai. No conditional permits for the commercial activities would be issued on Molokai, as the community did not want those operations because of concerns about adequate emergency resources in the event of a serious accident.

Council members voted 7-0 in favor of the bill, with Kama and Johnson absent and excused.

Spawned by Haiku residents’ ongoing complaints of ziplines causing problems, including noise, trespassing and the possibility of accidents, the bill was crafted because there are no conditional permits to regulate the operations.

In the past, some ziplines have received permits other ways, such as getting permission to operate as accessory uses on agricultural land, according to the Planning Department.

The bill also establishes operating hours and mandates insurance and routine inspections, among other requirements. It would also protect the county from lawsuits that may result from falls or accidents.

Other measures the council passed on first reading Friday aim to:

• Amend language in the Napili Bay Civic Improvement District. Driven by community outcry over the construction of a 45-foot-high home in Napili that is seeking to become a short-term rental, the bill updates the building height requirements to no more than two stories or 30 feet in height. Currently there are no specific measurements for the building height limit in the district. The bill also prohibits new hotel or vacation rental use throughout the district. Existing hotel and vacation rental use can continue.

• Prohibit the sale, rental and distribution of disposable bodyboards. According to the bill, the boards have significant impacts on the environment, including contributing to litter, creating an additional burden on landfills, contributing to the potential death of marine animals through ingestion and entanglement, as well as requiring the use of millions of barrels of crude oil for their manufacture. The bill would not prohibit the usage of the boards and is not meant to penalize those who may already own disposable bodyboards.

• Restrict the use and sale of polystyrene foam coolers and ice chests. The products would be added to a list of plastic foodware that will be banned beginning in 2022, in order to protect the environment and keep it plastic and polystyrene free.

A second and final reading is needed for the measures.

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

** This story contains a correction from its printed version.

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