Council eyes Yukimura’s ideas for vacation rentals

Owners of vacation rentals should obtain county permits and the government shouldn’t allow new units outside county-designated visitor destination areas.

That’s according to Kaua‘i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who has recommended her stance “unofficially” to the council.

Those observations were among draft amendments she sent to the Kaua‘i County Council Planning Committee Wednesday.

Yukimura also said single-family vacation rentals, sometimes dubbed “detached homes,” shouldn’t be allowed on agricultural lands, in part because government is supposed to identify and protect prime agricultural lands, according to state law.

She stressed the suggestions have not been officially introduced, and were circulated to solicit comments from other council members.

The council committee deferred action on a bill to regulate the vacation rental business to mull over her ideas.

It has tinkered with such a bill in response to public concerns that the proliferation of vacation rentals will hurt neighborhoods and displace longtime renters.

The existing law allows vacation rentals in visitor designation areas, such as Princeville, Kapa‘a and Waipouli, Lihu‘e, Po‘ipu and West Kaua‘i.

But the law doesn’t address whether the commercial uses are allowed outside of those areas.

Vacation rental owners such as Bruce Fehring feel that though the bill is well-intentioned, it might not be realistic.

“It’s a muddled bill that’s not well-thought out,” Fehring said. “I think we need to be realistic in our goals.”

Lee Roversi, who owns agricultural land in Kilauea that is partially financially supported by a guest house she rents out, said she believes Yukimura has lofty ideals. She said, however, that taking away the ability for her to rent her guest house for vacationing tourists, which Yukimura has said has been an illegal use for that land designation, is unfair.

“This bill is grandfathering-in everybody on Kaua‘i who has been paying taxes and declaring themselves, except the people on ‘ag’ land. That’s who’s being left out of this,” she said.

“The reality is people that own those ‘ag’ lands are going to sell it to be developed,” she continued. “It’s a fact. They’re not going to make money on it from farming coffee. I have to have my guest house run as vacation rental because it is not economically viable to farm on Kaua‘i without other help.”

Roversi also said pigeonholing tourists to “the Hyatts” is doing them and the island’s economy a disservice.

“Not all tourists want to stay on East Shore hotels or in vacation rentals in Princeville,” she said.

Successful tourism models use farm-style guest houses, she added, in places like Tuscany and Napa Valley in California.

Yukimura said the bill attempts to restore a balance between primary residences and single-family vacation rentals by requiring permits for all single-family and multi-family vacation rentals and prohibiting new vacation rentals outside of the visitor designated area, or VDA.

But the bill also proposes to grandfather in vacation rental units outside the VDA as long as the owners operated them legally and paid their taxes.

Yukimura said that because all counties are identifying prime agricultural lands, single-family vacation rentals on such lands would not be eligible for “non-conforming” use permits.

But operators of such units on state conservation lands apparently would be off the hook, because only the state government has jurisdiction over them, she said.

Yukimura also suggested that operators be allowed to put a maximum of one unlit advertisement sign on their property, and that it should measure no more than 3-square feet.

She also suggested the operators of vacation rentals should provide the name of a representative the county Planning Department could reach 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Yukimura also proposed all single-family and multi-family vacation rentals existing in the VDA area prior to the passage of the law must apply for and secure a Class I Zoning permit no later than 12 months after the effective date of the ordinance.

People who want to establish similar commercial units in the VDA subsequent to the effective date of the law also must secure the same permit before operating, she said.

Owners of single-family vacation rentals outside of the VDA must have operated legally at least 180 days prior to the effective date of the law to be eligible for a non-conforming certificate from the county.

The operators must secure the certificates before March 31, and must renew the certificate by that same date each year thereafter, Yukimura said.

Those who apply for the certificate must furnish a state general excise tax license and a transient accommodation tax license that were valid 180 days before the law was passed.

The impact of vacation rentals has been far-reaching impacts, Yukimura said. She states the single-family transient vacation rentals are occurring at a greater rate and inflicting a larger impact on Kaua‘i than was anticipated by the drafters of the county’s comprehensive zoning ordinance.

It provides regulations and standards for land development and the construction of buildings on the island.

Yukimura also said census data shows seasonal rentals on Kaua‘i account for 45 percent of new housing units built on the island between 1990 and 2000.

“Since 2000, out of the 2,050 new residential units, 1070 have been built for the seasonal homes market and less than half has been for local families to rent or own,” she said in a prepared statement.

Yukimura also states the council determined not all vacation rental owners paid their transient accommodation and general excise taxes, causing a loss of income to the state government and Kaua‘i County.

The bill doesn’t not apply to bed-and-breakfast operations, as the council plans to address those commercial businesses at another time.

Copies of Yukimura’s draft amendments can be viewed at the County Clerk’s Office at the historic County Building.

• Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com. Amanda C. Gregg contributed to this report.

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