A cyclist rides past a vacation rental on Alii Drive in January. (Laura Shimabuku/West Hawaii Today)

It’s now the public’s turn to weigh in on the vacation rental issue.

A measure first broached publicly in November, which then made its way through the Board of Ethics to clear a conflict of interest concern, will be discussed next week by the County Council Planning Committee.

Bill 108 is scheduled to be heard at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center. The public can also testify by videoconference from Hilo council chambers, the Pahoa and Waimea council offices, the old Kohala courthouse and the Naalehu state office building.

North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she’s hoping the public comes out to testify.

“It’s important to hear from the public on this issue,” Eoff said. “As co-sponsors of the bill, (Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha) and I definitely want to encourage people to come out and testify. We have scheduled the meeting for 1 p.m. and will be devoting the entire afternoon to hearing from the public and for discussion.”

Bill 108 would require existing transient vacation rentals outside of the Hotel/Resort District, the General Commercial District or Resort Nodes to apply for a nonconforming use certificate in order to be grandfathered in. Those in the allowed districts would be required to register with the county, but they don’t have to apply to the Planning Department for the special permit.

Short-term vacation rental is defined in the bill as a residential dwelling where the owner or operator does not reside on the building site, that has no more than five bedrooms on the building site for transient use, and is rented to transients for a period of 30 consecutive days or less.

The bill doesn’t regulate so-called “hosted” rentals, where the owner lives on-site. Bed and breakfasts are already regulated by the county.

The bill was delayed so Eoff could get an opinion from the Board of Ethics about whether she can participate in the bill’s progress, as she owns a vacation rental.

The board said it wouldn’t be an ethical violation as long as she disclosed a possible conflict of interest and got permission from the council chairwoman to proceed. Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter said she has also determined there’s no conflict.

Also on the agenda is a request by Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara to create an ad hoc committee to research and discuss zoning district impacts, permitting, taxation, on-site management and enforcement and to gather further impact from the public.

O’Hara said the bill needs more work before she can support it.

In particular, she said, it doesn’t take into account unique characteristics of rural districts such as Puna, where probably 95 percent of the land is zoned agriculture and there are no resort or hotel zones.

“Zonings are extremely different in every district,” O’Hara said. “I feel the bill should be fleshed out first.”

Once the council Planning Committee gets the bill worked out to its satisfaction, it then will be sent to the Leeward and Windward Planning Commissions before going on to the County Council for two readings.

Setting a category for vacation rentals will clear the way for the county to create a tax classification for them, so the county could set a vacation rental property tax rate that takes earning potential into account.

Currently, vacation rental owners are paying property taxes based on the existing tax class, such as agriculture or residential.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com

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