Last week's blog post on the county's proposed ordinance regulating homestays drew quite a few comments, including a lengthy one that Sam Lee, the former state land agent, submitted last night. It was so thoughtful that I decided to run it today, featuring Sam as a guest blogger.
I'll lead off with the highlights of a conversation I had with Planning Director Mike Dahilig. He said the proposed ordinance was prompted by his department's desire for a uniform policy in dealing with homestays, because 15 people have submitted applications for use permits to operate them. They range from a single room in a home in Kapaa to numerous rooms in a house in Wainiha.
Mike is also aware that some people are attempting to convert unpermitted TVRs to homestays. Two of those requests are now being fought through contested case hearings brought by North Shore residents.
The proposed ordinance is intended to “start a discussion” about what homestay regulations should look like, Mike said. The planning department is not wedded to the language in the proposed bill, and is very open to what the community wants, be it a cap on the number of homestays or their outright prohibition.
Sam, who lives in Poipu, is also very interested in hearing what folks in other neighborhoods think. So please share your thoughts, and include a reference to where on Kauai you live.
By this time I've had a chance to read the ordinance. I am one of many becoming aware of the size and complexity of the vacation rental business. An article in this past Sunday's Star Advertiser says 25% of tourist stays occur in vacation rentals. Officials estimate there are something like 22,000 (conservative) vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, most of them illegal. This dispels the notion that folks who operate vacation rentals are people who are trying to pay the mortgage, pay their kids college tuition, or earn a few extra dollars towards family expenses. This is NOT mom and pop stuff. This is BIG BUSINESS. The numbers also say government regulators have failed abysmally, allowing illegal rentals uncontrolled access to neighborhoods across Hawaii. The numbers are now so large and residents so upset, the State and Counties are forced to do something, AGAIN.
Just a few years ago, our County addressed the problem of illegal TVRs by devising a process allowing illegal rentals to file paperwork and suddenly become legal. Residents viewed this with disbelief. Most recently our County pushed for a change in zoning where I live, which if approved, will redesignate Residential zone to Visitor Destination Area. If this passes, unlimited vacation rentals will be automatically allowed completing the takeover of our neighborhood. Now the County is proposing Homestays, another effort to muscle vacation rentals into neighborhoods.
The ordinance has some language to mollify residents; such as a limit of one MINOR permit (allows up to 2 rooms in the house to be rented) for every 300 residents in a given area. But the ordinance also allows Major Permits (5 bedrooms for up to 10 people) with NO Limit on number issued in the same area through a Use Permit. So potentially, there is no limit.
Another feature requires the homeowner to live in the house full time and provide a Homeowners Exemption Certificate attesting to full time occupancy for only one year. At minimum, one year should be increased to five years.
The owner in the house should reduce noise and bad behavior activity by guests. What it doesn't do is address the issues that arise when mixed uses occur in crowded, small lot neighborhoods with oversized houses built close together. From our own experience these include, increased vehicle and foot traffic, speeding cars, sense of crowding, sense of entitlement by guests, tension between neighbors, loss of the "neighborhood" feeling, added burden on aged infrastructure, etc, etc.
For waste control the ordinance requires the property to be on a septic system; which is a good thing. For buyers of newer houses or builders of new ones (transplants) this is no problem as the law now requires this. The downside is, if Aunty and Uncle intend to earn a few dollars by renting a room or two on a cesspool, they may be in for a surprise.
So as our government pushes unceasingly for tourism, we wonder; is the push backed by need? Just up the street from where I live are several hundred acres of vacant land, already zoned, permitted for tourist accommodations but unbuilt on. Between 1000 and 2000 units can be built. Many of these parcels have had permits for years. On the east side, the County recently approved hundreds of hotel rooms with more coming when the Coco Palms gets permitted. On the north shore, Jeff Stone has publicized plans for a 1,000 acre luxury development at Princeville.
With all that out there, I truly wonder why we have to have Homestays, TVRs or B&Bs pushed into our neighborhoods. Is there any place left for residents to call their own?
I'm sure there are many perspectives on this issue- for and against. Thank you, Joan, for allowing me to share mine.
best wishes, sam lee