While The Garden Island is busy pimping for Playboy, it's continuing to ignore some big news: the next wave of vacation rentals.
Yeah, Kauai County is calling them homestays. But in practice, the bill that Councilman Mason Chock will introduce on Wednesday is just like the TVR law, in that allows a whole new batch of visitor accommodations to legally proliferate in the residential district.
Gone is the initial limit of 10 homestay applications per year, proposed so Planning could avoid the mess it made implementing the TVR law, when it rubber-stamped flawed and even fraudulent applications, allowing owners who did not actually qualify to obtain — and retain — the lucrative lifetime permits.
Now there's no limit on how many homestay operators can seek permits, and no limit on how many can be approved. The only restriction is they can't be operated in the agriculture or open districts.
There is no attempt whatsoever to quantify the overall visitor impact on a residential neighborhood, or to prevent the expansion of visitor accommodations in rural areas like Wainiha and Haena.
Folks can rent up to five bedrooms — a mini-hotel — and allow people to stay in a guest house. So even though the owner has to actually live on the property, the "homestay" guest doesn't have to actually stay in the home.
Of course, there's no mechanism to actually ensure that owners are on-site during the stay. All they have to do is show they're getting the homeowner exemption when they apply and renew.
To their small credit, the Planning Department and Commission have decreed that homestays must be on a legit septic system, not cesspools. Many TVRs, including large, oceanfront properties, operate on antiquated cesspools. As Planning Director Mike Dahilig told the Planning Commission:
If you look at someplace like Hanalei Bay, and the amount of wastewater issues that they are having with their water contamination, and that place is virtually 70, 80, possibly 90% transient vacation rental, non-conforming use certificate holders. If that position had been required of them, there’s a strong possibility they would not have the pollution issues that they are having right now in the bay. So the Department does look at that with the TVR ordinance as having been a missed opportunity, and there is no reason that we should possibly. . .because it is incongruous with the TVR ordinance, to say we shouldn’t have it imposed upon the Homestay operations.
So how about they go back and amend the TVR law to impose that requirement and help clean up the Bay?
Homestay permits, like TVR certificates, will run with the property. They'll be renewed without question or scrutiny, so long as folks send in a $750 annual renewal fee and proof of owner-occupancy and general excise and transient accommodation licenses. They do not have to prove they're actually paying the taxes.
And since the homestay bill, like the TVR bill, has no inspection process, the county will have no clear idea what sort of accommodations are being offered. How, then, can it possibly reassure us that this provision will be carried out?
A Use Permit may be granted only if the Planning Commission finds that the establishment, maintenance, or operation of the construction, development, activity, or use in particular case is a compatible use and is not detrimental to health, safety, peace, morals, comfort, and general welfare of persons residing or working the neighborhood of the proposed use, or detrimental or injurious to property and improvements in the neighborhood or to the general welfare of the community, and will not cause any substantial harmful environmental consequences.
If it doesn't inspect, how will the county know if bedrooms are being rented in the ground floor of a flood zone? If kitchens have been illegally installed? If lockout doors have created an illegal multifamily dwelling unit?
Because all of these things happened — and are still happening — under the TVR law. But the county apparently either never learned, or wants to keep its head in the sand, which is why it's repeating so many of the same mistakes when it comes to permitting homestays.