Walking along the road, as I do every morning and evening and other odd times in between, I am often struck by the intimate details of domestic life revealed to one who is passing by, seeing, hearing, smelling, observing unobserved.
Like the man singing a mournful, but tuneful, song in his shower. The moans of a couple making love. The smell of coffee perking, rice cooking, toast browning, clothes tumbling in a dryer with one of those toxic fabric softener sheets. The dietary and recycling habits exposed by an open rubbish can.
Similarly, Councilman Tim Bynum this week revealed that he is catering to a very distinct and select constituency with the introduction of two bills. One would allow dogs on the entire length of the Path now that folks — with the notable exception of Kauai Humane Society Director Becky Rhoades and a handful of others — have shown they can follow the rules.
Would that a similar rationale was the basis for his second bill.
Instead, it not only rewards people for breaking the rules, it facilitates a process by which the county itself can violate state law.
Tim’s bill essentially guts the transient vacation rental (TVRs) ordinance that the Council labored over for many months and replaces it with language that allows TVRs anywhere on the island, including agricultural land. What's more, it doesn’t even require the ag land TVR operator to have even a semblance of a farm.
It also removes language that requires the TVR unit to be in compliance with all state and county land use laws, then goes on to delete language that requires the planning department to conduct a physical inspection of TVRs before they are approved.
Unfortunately, that’s not the whole of it. The bill gives TVR operators who didn’t get their application in before the last bill took effect another chance to apply. So that means that the few TVRs that the planning department previously rejected because of various violations will get another go, even if those violations haven’t been corrected. Because who will know, if there is no inspection?
The bill doesn’t even get into the issue of land use compliance until it starts talking about renewals, at which time the owner is supposed to provide proof of compliance and the county may, or may not, inspect the property.
If applicants fail to meet the deadline for applying within 60 days of the ordinance’s effective date, they can simply pay a $500 penalty and apply anyway, up to a year later.
And while the bill requires the county to post applications and completed applications on its website and make such materials available at the planning department counter, it delete the previous requirement for a deadline to do so. This means that years could by before the public would even know about, much less have an opportunity to challenge, TVR permits.
That provision alone speaks volumes about what Tim thinks about government accountability and transparency, and the public's right to participate in the process.
The entire bill, meanwhile, speaks volumes about what Tim thinks of the law. By introducing this ordinance, he completely thumbs his nose at Chapter 205-5 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, which states quite clearly (emphasis added):
(b) Within agricultural districts, uses compatible to the activities described in section 205‑2 as determined by the commission shall be permitted; provided that accessory agricultural uses and services described in sections 205‑2 and 205‑4.5 may be further defined by each county by zoning ordinance. Each county shall adopt ordinances setting forth procedures and requirements, including provisions for enforcement, penalties, and administrative oversight, for the review and permitting of agricultural tourism uses and activities as an accessory use on a working farm, or farming operation as defined in section 165‑2; provided that agricultural tourism activities shall not be permissible in the absence of a bona fide farming operation.
Ordinances shall include but not be limited to:
(1) Requirements for access to a farm, including road width, road surface, and parking;
(2) Requirements and restrictions for accessory facilities connected with the farming operation, including gift shops and restaurants; provided that overnight accommodations shall not be permitted;
(3) Activities that may be offered by the farming operation for visitors;
(4) Days and hours of operation; and
(5) Automatic termination of the accessory use upon the cessation of the farming operation.
It’s clear that non-agricultural uses encourage speculation, which drives up ag land prices and make it unfeasible for farming. It’s clear that we already have people who have flouted the law and constructed mini resorts on ag land, like this one and this one and this one, to highlight but a few.
It’s also clear, at least from the vacation rental ads, that very few bonafide farmers are actually operating TVRs.
Instead, they’re a money-making scheme promulgated largely by off-island land owners looking for a bigger return on their investment than a farm could ever provide. And with some of them charging rents ranging from $4,500 to $6,000 per week to $4,450 to $5,500 per night, it’s a very lucrative enterprise indeed.
The other benefactors of the bill's largesse are the Realtors who peddle Kauai's coastal and farm lands, knowingly and willing, to folks who wouldn't be buying it they couldn't exploit it for resort uses that don't even make a pretense of being linked to a farm or a neighborhood.
Those are the folks Tim is catering to with this bill, and he’s not alone. All the other Council members, with the exception of Kaipo Asing and Derek Kawakami, went along.
So if you’re wondering, come election time, who your Councilmembers are working for, odds are, it sure as heck ain’t you.