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Vacation rental owners speak out

LIHU’E — It’s long been a complaint among many residents on the North Shore:

The proliferation of vacation rentals has changed the nature of their

neighborhoods.

That’s really a “wake-up call” that the island needs more

affordable housing, according to a manager of vacation rental homes.

Lucy

Kawaihalau, owner of Kaua’i Vacation Rentals, said yesterday that most of her

owners spend at least part of the year living in their units, making them for

the most part unsuitable for the long-term, resident rental market.

Still,

she expressed a willingness to sit down and work out “win-win” situations with

those Kauaians who feel the nature of their neighborhoods has changed as a

result of numbers of vacation rentals in residential areas.

She’d be the

one to do it, too, she said, as she manages many of the vacation rentals in the

Ha’ena and Wainiha areas, where many of the complaints have

originated.

Visitors want to come and stay in neighborhoods where they feel

welcome, so working out a solution would benefit all involved parties,

Kawaihalau said.

Her comments came at the final scheduled Kaua’i Planning

Commission public hearing on the Kaua’i General Plan Final Draft, at the Kaua’i

War Memorial Convention Hall.

Visitors want choices in accommodations, be

it hotels, condominiums, vacation rentals, bed-and-breakfast operations,

camping, or other options, she continued.

“We’re interested in preserving

Kaua’i,” and the fact that these vacation rentals are immaculately maintained

for the next visitor’s enjoyment mean many, high-paying local jobs are created,

for cleaners, gardeners, landscape professionals, and many others, she

said.

Kawaihalau, some of her employees and others who work to maintain

vacation rentals made their case for why vacation rentals are good for the

island.

Vacation rentals contribute to the island in a number of ways, and

generate millions of dollars a year for the state and county in general excise

taxes and transient accommodations taxes, she explained.

Commission Chair

Gary Baldwin said he thinks he’s hearing the public saying that some sort of

permitting system is needed for vacation rentals, bed-and-breakfast operations

and other alternative visitor accommodations, and has solicited ideas for such

permits.

One suggestion is to allow these alternative accommodations only

in areas enjoying visitor destination area (VDA) designations.

Another is

to allow one vacation rental unit for each allowable residential unit on

agricultural parcels, while another proposal is to let the individual planning

districts decide on numbers and locations of vacation rentals.

Dee Crowell,

county planning director, said the complaint from the people has been the

impact on their neighborhoods (not knowing who their neighbors are because they

change every week, etc.) due to the presence of high numbers of vacation

rentals in certain neighborhoods.

Crowell added that it would be better for

suggestions to come in on how to regulate these accommodations, because if the

county regulates, it will come in with a chainsaw as opposed to a

scalpel.

Patti Pacanas, who operates her own home-cleaning business mostly

in South Shore vacation rentals, said the business has allowed her to live

comfortably.

“It totally supports my family, pays my mortgage, puts food on

our table,” she said. Vacation rentals are well maintained, those doing the

maintenance are paid well, and she feels the industry promotes an atmosphere

that encourages return visitors.

“We are keeping Hawai’i Hawai’i,” she

said.

Lehua Ornellas, a reservationist at Kaua’i Vacation Rentals, said

vacation rentals support a variety of other businesses, like pool cleaners,

repair people, house cleaners, yard maintenance firms, gardeners, and

others.

She is even surprised by the quality of homes in the Kaua’i

Vacation Rentals inventory. “It’s like clean from top to bottom before the

guest arrives.”

Guest comment cards ask for visitors’ visions for Kaua’i,

and they often say small businesses like those maintaining vacation rental

properties should be encouraged, as they paint a picture of what Kaua’i is

really like, Ornellas said.

Water shortage here

Several other speakers

(of 21 in all) talked about a variety of other specific and island-wide

issues.

Lelan Nishek, owner of Kaua’i Nursery and Landscaping, said there

is a water shortage in Kilauea, an area once abundant with water. He favors

allowing residential or commercial development on non-prime agricultural

lands.

Nishek also feels the island should be more self-sufficient, and

encourage development of hydroelectric systems to the point that some land

owners be required to develop hydroelectric power sources on their lands where

applicable, with tax incentives for them to do so.

Wailua should be

promoted as a major cultural and recreational area, and public areas need more

landscaping. Divided highways should have green in between, he continued.

A

big land grab

It is “a lot naive” to go for the highest visitor arrival

figure for the year 2020, said Andy Parks, especially since the current

infrastructure doesn’t handle the current population.

“It doesn’t stand the

test of reason to me. It’s short-sighted, naive; I’ve run out of words,” he

said. Current parks are beyond capacity, and planning for high numbers of

visitors won’t help the county get federal or state money for improvements,

Parks argued.

“You’re gonna get what you’re gonna get,” he said of visitor

arrival numbers. “We’re not keeping up now,” so to project a visitor arrival

figure 50 percent higher than today’s number will allow us to further not keep

up, he said.

Business people are in such a rush to get the nine proposed

General Plan designations changed through the update process that including

these projects in the General Plan would short-cut public input on the

projects.

Each one is its own special project, and deserves individual

public scrutiny, he added. “It’s just a big land grab.”

Westside growth

favored

Liz Hahn-Morin feels fortunate to finally be able to live and work

in the same town, Waimea, and likes the idea of “sustained, organic growth” for

the Westside as proposed by Kikiaola Land Company and Robinson Family

Partners.

Roland Sagum, a Native Hawaiian, General Plan Update Citizens

Advisory Committee member, land-use consultant and Kikiaola Land Company staff

member, said when he recently returned from a weekend on Moloka’i he became

even more enamored with Kaua’i, because there are essentially no economic

opportunities on Moloka’i, and this island is a veritable land of plenty

compared to Moloka’i.

He presented the commission with 80 signatures and 20

letters from folks in support of the Westside General Plan designations at

Kapalawai and Kikiaola.

Sagum read a letter from Linda F. Collins, manager

of Kikiaola Land Company, wherein she said that when sugar declined on the

Westside, so did the community’s self-sufficiency and vitality.

Restoring

that vitality now is in the hands of the Kikiaola master-planned community and

her company, whose surveys have showed overwhelming support for that master

plan, she said.

Cheryl Lovell-Obatake, another CAC member, said Kapalawai

should not be allowed to become a resort, because of its historical features.

She prefers the area becoming a cultural destination village open only during

the day.

A 250-cabin resort is planned for the area, and the developer,

Destination Villages, is before the state Land Use Commission for public

hearings on an LUC land-use change next week.

“Kapalawai should be

controlled and treated with great respect. Allowing a resort will ruin the

historical ambiance and landform,” she said.

The Hanapepe salt pans should

be preserved and protected, and the state Department of Transportation Airports

Division expansion plan at nearby Burns Field should not be allowed to happen,

she continued.

Master planning is needed for future cemetery development,

and the island’s death rate should be considered for planning purposes as

well.

“It’s been a very challenging two years,” and a terrific learning

experience, she said of her time with the CAC. She is glad she was able to get

the Office of Hawaiian Affairs involved in the General Plan Update process, as

OHA is an advocate for Native Hawaiian people.

Island has cancer

Fran

Brennan said that if the island was a person, it would be diagnosed with cancer

and hardening of the arteries.

It is cancerous because of all the

development approvals, like Coco Palms, being allowed without an environmental

impact statement being required, he said.

“It seems that things are out of

control.”

Hardening of the arteries relates to the crowded conditions on

the roads. “Kapa’a needs a triple bypass,” said Brennan, critical of the

state’s decision to widen Kaumuali’i Highway to four lanes while work on any

Kapa’a bypass road seems years away.

“It seems like Kapa’a was forgotten,”

said Brennan, who thinks traffic jams will kill the golden goose known as

tourism.

Growth of individuals and growth of the island need to be

balanced.

Michael Belles, an attorney who represents Destination Villages,

the developer of Kapalawai, pleaded with the commission to approve the General

Plan designation changes for Kapalawai and Kikiaola.

As a concerned

citizen, he cautioned the commission to take heart in David Callies’ letter

regarding possible legal challenges to certain proposals in the General Plan.

Any ordinance must pass legal muster before being enacted, he

said.

Implementation is the most important part of the process, and the

plan will be law, quoted and interpreted by those for and against certain

development proposals, Belles said.

“I think it is a good document,” said

Max Graham, an attorney speaking for himself. The issues being generated by

discussion of the General Plan Update are vital.

“I really like the idea of

regional development plans,” but they should not be allowed to dictate specific

zoning, Graham said.

Regarding a proposal to limit structures in the open

zone, Graham said he feels every land owner should be able to build at least

one home on his land without a permit as a matter of law.

Kilauea’s Mike

Dyer said light industrial zoning is too permissive, allowing industrial as

well as commercial uses.

Regarding issues on agricultural lands, Dyer said

the General Plan Update language is good. He hopes, though, that the Planning

Department will not make too many revisions to the county’s Comprehensive

Zoning Ordinance, as he feels the document in place has worked well in terms of

allowable uses of agricultural lands.

Large-scale agricultural operations

are becoming less and less viable on the island, especially where irrigation

systems are deteriorating, he said.

Location, shipping problems, and other

factors like the opening up of prime agricultural lands with ample water on the

Ewa Plain of O’ahu, are working against island farmers.

The day will come

sooner when Ewa produce is on Kaua’i store shelves than the day when Kaua’i

produce gains a foothold in O’ahu stores, he said.

Further, he is opposed

to an agriculture 2 zoning as proposed in the current Kaua’i General Plan Final

Draft, as requiring farmers to come in for such zoning will place additional

burdens on overburdened farmers.

He is in favor of allowing one house per

lot on smaller farm lots, as that idea is simple and flexible. He is in favor

of letting the individual planning districts decide on the issue of vacation

rentals in residential areas.

David Martin of Hanama’ulu is involved in

various watershed councils, which are community groups coming together to deal

with water resource issues in communities.

At Nawiliwili, the watershed

group is working with kayak companies on voluntary guidelines for times and

numbers of kayaks allowed up the Hule’ia River.

He is sad that the General

Plan vision doesn’t discuss sustainability, or water issues, as

priorities.

Hawaiian culture most important

Chuck Trembath said that

when the Planning Department and General Plan Update consultant asked the

community what the most important thing on Kaua’i is, they got a myriad of

responses: rural lifestyle, aloha spirit, Hawaiian culture, beauty,

etc.

All that will change if the largest visitor arrival figure (around

32,000 visitors a day) is realized by the year 2020.

“The Hawaiian culture

is the most important thing we have,” he said. Without it, Kaua’i becomes just

another place to visit.

But the Hawaiian culture is being “drowned out” by

other cultures, something he likens to having a bucket of brown paint that one

keeps adding more and more white paint to.

After awhile, all you see is the

white paint, with very little brown left, he said. Instead of maximizing the

visitor arrival number, the island should maximize the Hawaiian culture, he

said.

There is no policy in the General Plan to ensure the perpetuation of

the Hawaiian culture, said Trembath, adding that the Water Plan 2020 (the

county Department of Water’s long-range plan), storm water runoff and drainage

plans should all be weaved into the General Plan.

Baldwin took exception to

some of Trembath’s comments, saying that Kaua’i exhibits the best aloha spirit

and enjoys the highest visitor satisfaction of any of the islands, according to

the most recent surveys.

The island has zoning now for 5,000 additional

visitor units, which would bring the total number of around 12,000, Baldwin

stated. Based on an 80 percent occupancy rate, Kaua’i will get its 32,000 daily

visitors by the year 2020.

“Shouldn’t we plan for the infrastructure needed

for those numbers? I think you have to plan for what’s coming down,” Baldwin

said.

No diplomatic relationship

Kane Pa questioned the commission

about county and state relationships with Native Hawaiians, when the federal

government has admitted is has no diplomatic relationship with Native

Hawaiians.

How can the state and county have programs and relationships

with the Native Hawaiians when the federal government has no diplomatic

relations with Native Hawaiians? he asked.

Gary Lee said now is the perfect

time to review the General Plan, because people tend to be outraged if a lot of

change happens all at once, but adaptable if the change occurs over

time.

He feels strongly that utility lines should be buried underground,

and that a trash-to-energy plant is the most environmentally considerate form

of electrical generation.

Transportation is the second-most detrimental

issue on the island, said Lee, calling for a quiet, fast and efficient mass

transit system that will help the island accommodate the estimated 32,000 daily

visitors expected here by 2020.

“The more roads we build, the more cars

will come.” The island needs more bicycle paths, and shouldn’t allow cigarettes

on the island unless they come with biodegradable filters.

He favors the

U.S government offering programs to Native Hawaiians as it did for the Japanese

and Germans after World War II, to make them whole again, as the overthrow was

in essence a bloodless war that caused Native Hawaiians great

suffering.

Lee further favors getting young students at Kaua’i Community

College involved in General Plan decision-making matters.

They’re building

electric cars at the Puhi campus, so if county planners called on students to

come up with economically viable answers to problems like traffic, tourism and

housing, they’d do it, Lee contends.

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