Council may phase out transient vacation rentals
A proposed bill headed to County Council next week would prohibit new transient vacation rentals and institute stricter regulations on existing operations.
The county Planning Committee yesterday unanimously approved the policy shift after hearing several hours of testimony at the Historic County Building.
Vacation rental owners and managers, along with local workers employed in this rapidly growing industry, mostly voiced concerns over the anticipation of a proposed amendment.
Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who was absent from the meeting yesterday, is expected to introduce a controversial provision Wednesday that would phase out transient vacation rentals over 18 months.
Amber Naiea Fitzpatrick, a Kapa‘a resident who works for Remax Kauai with “a number of other single mothers,” said they do not want a law that would shut down their opportunity to live independently.
“We are paid enough to support our children, ourselves and live on the island we grew up on,” she told council. “If I lost my job, I don’t know what I would do.”
There is a misconception, she said, that vacation rentals just help some homeowners make a lot of money; they are “helping to sustain us local kids.”
Leo Patch — who said he represents many employed in the industry washing windows, maintaining properties, landscaping and other associated jobs — said he opposed any clause that would phase out existing vacation rentals.
“It’s economic suicide” for the island, he said.
Council members present questioned if implementing an amortization provision was even legal under current state law.
Councilman Tim Bynum, noting conflicting legal opinions, said although many people may want all vacation rentals phased out, he is bound by a law that he believes prohibits it.
While acknowledging the positive aspects, the county determined that an uncontrolled proliferation of single-family transient vacation rentals in residential and other zones outside visitor designation areas has caused substantial negative impacts to some neighborhoods and threatens to destroy the character of others if left unchecked.
The proposed bill’s purpose is three-fold. It would require registration of all vacation rentals or nonconforming use certificates and set standards for all vacation rentals, explicitly prohibit new single-family vacation rentals outside visitor designation areas, and identify and allow nonconforming uses where single-family vacation rentals have been operating lawfully prior to the bill’s approval.
Princeville, Po‘ipu and Kapa‘a are the current visitor designation areas, county Planning Department Director Ian Costa said.
An amendment attached to the bill would allow the county to temporarily suspend enforcement of single-family vacation rentals on agricultural land, which state law currently prohibits, until “important agricultural lands” are identified and ordinances regulating those lands are adopted.
Part of the problem, council members agreed, is a weak definition of farming. They said Act 183, a state initiative, will help clarify appropriate agricultural land uses, but that process is not expected to be completed for some time.
Costa asked council to include an “aloha” or “kuleana” provision in the bill that would let visitors staying at vacation rentals know that they are “guests” and the residents in the area are the “hosts.”
He said that providing these visitors with information on working class neighborhoods could be a management tool to avoid complaints over dogs or children playing in the area.
The committee did not take action on the planning director’s suggestion.
In supporting the proposed bill, councilman Ron Kouchi said he particularly likes that the legislation would force the public process to be triggered if and when the time comes for future vacation rentals to be permitted in zones outside visitor designation areas.
“Managing the future is extremely important,” said Councilman Jay Furfaro, noting seven years of work to get to this point.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who chairs the Planning Committee, said, “It’s been a long journey, but hopefully it will be a fruitful one.”
Council chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing at the start of the discussion on the bill urged the committee to wait until all five members were present to properly air out all concerns and hear substantial amendments before sending it to the council floor.
“All work should be done at the committee level,” Asing said, adding that amendments on the council floor should be “minor in nature.”
Councilman Mel Rapozo and Iseri-Carvalho’s absences were excused.
Yukimura said she wished the council chair would have spoken up at a recent meeting when she had asked Iseri-Carvalho, the Public Works Committee chair, to hold off on voting on a landmark housing policy until she was present for discussion.
Instead, the committee ushered the bill out and council completed its work in a session that started at 9 a.m. and ended with a final vote at midnight.
The next council meeting will be at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Historic County Building.
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org.