Committee caps B&B permits

LIHUE – The cap is set.

So is the definition.

No more than 10 B&B permit applications will be reviewed per year under an ordinance change approved during a Kauai County Council committee hearing Wednesday.

The bill, which was approved by a four-to-one vote by the council’s planning committee, also tightens the definition of a homestay (commonly known as a bed-and-breakfast or B&B) to ensure that the property owner actually resides onsite. County officials said the changes are needed to prevent illegal Transitory Vacation Rental (TVR) owners from exploiting a loophole in the current definition in order to get a B&B permit.

“This is the time for anyone who thinks they are an illegal B&B to come out and do something about it,” said Planning Committee Chair Mason Chock, who urged people who want to get a B&B permit to get their applications submitted now that the requirements were being adopted. “I think if we can get all of those who can get their application in now, I think we have a better chance of moving forward on those.”

The council’s planning commission is comprised of five council members who vet bills before the full council votes on them.

Councilman Gary Hooser voiced support for the definition change but fought against capping the number of permits that can be reviewed, while defending legitimate B&B operators. He was the lone vote against the bill.

“I think people in our community need options to make money,” he said. “Whether you are a retiree or a young person, you have an extra bedroom and a kitchen, you want to rent it out. It’s about moderation.”

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura proposed an amendment that would establish a temporary permit to allow longstanding B&B operators who were recently shut down to continue operating until the county has a clear regulatory framework for dealing with homestays in place. Yukimura is not a member of the planning committee, so Hooser offered the amendment at her request, but the amendment failed by the same margin.

“I feel that the real homestay B&Bs are being penalized for the sins of the TVRs,” Yukimura said.

Several other changes were approved, including an amendment to prevent guest houses from being used to provide B&B accommodations. This change was made despite the fact that a day prior the Kauai Planning Commission approved a B&B permit that included a guest house. That permit was the first approved by the Planning Committee since 2004 and is currently the only valid B&B permit on the entire island.

Permits will be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Seventeen applications have already been submitted and a dozen more are in the queue, but county officials said those applications that have already been accepted will not count against the new cap.

The bill includes a sunset provision, so the cap limiting the number of B&B applications that may be reviewed expires on Dec. 31, 2016.

Although he sympathized with B&B owners caught up in the situation, Council Vice-Chair Ross Kagawa said the bill was an important first step in trying to solve the illegal TVR problem.

“The TVR issue has destroyed Hanalei,” Kagawa said. “I apologize to the B&B folks out there who are suffering. I think a lot of you will get your B&B permits approved.”

“When you tackle a problem, not everybody’s gonna be happy in the end,” Kagawa added.

The county identified 320 TVRs and B&Bs it believes are operating without the proper permits. The county divided those properties in two groups. As part of the county’s first wave of enforcement, it sent out 93 cease-and-desist letters in March telling operators without permits they had two weeks to shut down or risk facing $10,000-a-day fines. Planning Director Michael Dahilig said the county is still investigating more B&Bs that are operating without proper permits and will take enforcement action, although he declined to specify a timetable for when it would do so.

“I think they badly overreacted,” Hooser said of the letters. “We are treating them like dirt compared to the TVRs.”

Councilmembers Chock, Kagawa, Arryl Kaneshiro, and KipuKai Kuali’i voted in favor of the bill. Councilmembers Mel Rapozo and Yukimura are not members of the committee and were not allowed to vote.

Bill 2587 now goes before the full council next Wednesday. If approved, it will then go to the mayor for his signature.

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