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Measure to cap hotel units spurs debate

Visitor industry officials, workers hold rally to oppose cap

Community members and hotel workers rallied in Wailuku on Tuesday before a Maui Planning Commission hearing on a proposed cap on visitor accommodations. About 60 people attended. Hawaii Hotel Alliance photo

Visitor industry officials and workers along with labor unions showed up Tuesday at a rally and at a Maui Planning Commission meeting to oppose a bill that would cap the number of transient accommodation units, including hotel units, at current levels in apartment and hotel districts.

The bill is a result of actions tied to the current temporary moratorium on new transient accommodations on Maui, one of the Maui County Council’s attempts to better manage tourism on the Valley Isle. The temporary moratorium will be in place for two years from its effective date, Jan. 7, 2024, or until the council adopts tourism management ordinances, such as the one proposed, whichever is sooner.

Along with the cap, the bill would also remove transient accommodations as permitted uses in various zoning districts, prohibit transient accommodations of more than 20 bedrooms in the B-2 Community Business District, limit timeshare plans to Hotel and B-2 Districts only and prohibit temporary parking of camper vans and recreational vehicles used for transient accommodations unless authorized by zoning and permit.

According to the Maui County Planning Department, there were 24,425 total visitor lodging units in 2021 on Maui, including 13,029 residential condos used for transient lodging, 8,336 rooms across 41 hotels, 2,475 timeshare condo units, 420 permitted or grandfathered single-family transient lodging, 165 single-family bed and breakfast operations and 134 hotel-zoned condos not used for transient lodging.

Close to 30 people provided testimony Tuesday with around 20 opposed to the bill, around six in support and others who remained neutral.

Wayne Hedani, president of the Kaanapali Operations Association, called the bill an “illegal taking of vested right,” especially when it comes to capping units in hotel districts.

“It makes the moratorium permanent with no legal basis,” Hedani said. “Moratoriums need to be finite, with a beginning and an end. This has no end and it’s in my opinion, not legal from that standpoint.”

He said hotels are already capped by existing zoning and they cannot exceed existing requirements in height and in floor area coverage as well as in building codes.

“Hotels have paid for zoned land for 60 years, at 12-story zoning in H-2 properties,” Hedani said. “You are now saying that you cannot make the highest and best use of that existing zoning. You are going to be capped at whatever your building envelope is. It penalizes those that did not build to maximum density. It adds to Hawaii’s reputation as purgatory for business.”

David Clements, a 26-year resident of Maui and a bartender at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, said that “any construction moratorium going forward combined with the same numbers of tourists coming in to the islands is just going to lead to further use of our non-hotel-zoned areas in the manner that residents are not happy with.”

He said that in his direct experience of working with visitors, the people staying at the hotel are not the ones filling up Target, Costco and the beach parks.

“When they stay at our hotels and resorts they tend to congregate and stay at the hotel and resort. They have a beach directly in front of them. They don’t tend to drive to say, Baby Beach in Spreckelsville and take up all those parking spots. To me those are the people who are coming from those STRHS and the illegal rentals, it’s not the hotel guest that are doing that,” Clements said.

Those in support of the bill said it will not take away current jobs or current accommodations, as alluded to by rally participants and testifiers.

Albert Perez, executive director of Maui Tomorrow, said the bill will not reduce existing accommodations and it will not affect existing jobs.

“Also the fear that this bill will drive tourists into residential areas does not justify the building of more hotels,” Perez said. “We already have caps on short-term rentals and B&Bs in the residential areas, so what we need to do is crack down on those illegal operations, not say that we cannot do anything about them.”

As for the claim that the bill will be an “illegal taking,” Perez said that state law allows the county to phase out certain uses over a reasonable period of time, but it cannot be done for single-family, duplex or agricultural uses.

“Just to be clear, the purpose of the moratorium was to give us time to consider more permanent measures and that is exactly what we are doing,” he said. “Overtourism is continuing to expand and we are already way over the 33 percent ratio adopted into law. The first step in addressing a problem is to stop making it worse.”

Environmental and shoreline access activist Kai Nishiki testified in support of the bill.

“Our kids aren’t leaving because they can’t find a job, it’s because they don’t want to be a servant to tourists for the rest of their lives. They want jobs that they can advance in, use the degrees they went to school for and homes they can really afford. There are no affordable rentals, no truly attainable homes to buy, that’s why they are leaving,” she said. “Unions and construction industry, we got choke work for you. Have you seen our crumbling infrastructure, our roads, sewer, water lines, wastewater systems? Have you seen all the buildings and the hotels built in the ’70s falling into the ocean? There is a huge opportunity for a long-term construction boom, with sea level rise, coastal erosion and the aging buildings.”

The bill had been set to be reviewed by the Maui Planning Commission Tuesday but due to a procedural issue with the South Maui Advisory Committee, the commission did not have an official recommendation from the committee as required. The planning commission intends to meet again on the bill sometime in late September. It can make recommendations on the bill, but the Maui County Council will have the final say.

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

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