Haiku residents divided on short-term rentals

Planning Director Will Spence talks about short-term rentals Thursday night on a panel that includes Haiku Community Association President Lucienne de Naie (center) and Elaine Wender. The county is gathering community feedback in the face of two conflicting documents: the Maui County Code, which allows 88 short-term rentals in the Paia-Haiku area; and the Paia-Haiku Community Plan, which doesn’t allow short-term rentals at all. — The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

HAIKU — A poll taken at the end of a Haiku Community Association meeting Thursday night showed residents evenly divided (about 20 to each side) on whether to allow more vacation rentals in the community.

It’s a question that residents are having to face since the county Planning Department brought up an issue that went overlooked five years ago. When the Maui County Council passed a law allowing short-term rentals in 2012, the Paia-Haiku area was given a rental cap of 88. There was one problem: the Paia-Haiku Community Plan, adopted in 1995, doesn’t allow for short-term rentals.

“It was in the documents we brought to the council, but it was not explicitly discussed on the floor with the committee,” Planning Director Will Spence said Thursday. “This wasn’t as plain as it should’ve been. So let’s go about and correct this.”

The Paia-Haiku area currently has 47 permitted short-term rentals, according to the county. The community plan limits visitor lodging to bed-and-breakfasts, which, unlike short-term rentals, must have an owner on site.

On July 25, the Maui Planning Commission took a look at two bills, one that would amend the community plan and allow short-term rentals, and another that would amend the Maui County Code to prohibit short-term rentals. The commission could also change the cap number, but members deferred action for at least 60 days until they could hear from the community.

More than 100 people showed up at the association meeting Thursday. Those who commented afterward were split. On one hand, some say, plenty of permitted operators have followed the law and been good to their neighbors. But others are concerned with vacation rentals taking away housing inventory and raising property taxes.

Sheila McLaughlin is a landscaper for some Mainland residents who rent out their Maui homes as vacation rentals. She said that the homes are “empty a lot of the time,” which is frustrating for her as she watches her 28-year-old homeless son struggle to find a place to live on Maui.

“I just feel that this part of the island is not a place for vacation rentals,” McLaughlin said. “I realize that some people are trying to support themselves. . . . But it just raises the prices of rents here. . . . The local people don’t benefit from it, and too many people that don’t live here get a lot of benefit from it.”

Joyclynn Costas, a lifelong Haiku resident and the Aha Moku representative for Hama-kualoa, said that the county should prohibit short-term rentals in any new subdivisions.

“Whoever’s here, they’re permitted. We can’t take that back,” Costas said. “But I think there shouldn’t be any more until there’s more thought into it, especially because the county has admitted mistakes.”

During the meeting, panelist Elaine Wender pointed to a 2016 study by Unite Here! Local 5, Hawaii’s hospitality and health care union. The study, titled “The Hidden Cost of Hidden Hotels,” estimated that 1 out of every 7.2 homes in Paia, or 14 percent, is being advertised online as a vacation rental.

But supporters of vacation rentals said enforcement is the real problem, and that they shouldn’t be punished because of illegal operators.

Association Treasurer Tim Wolfe said he pays all his taxes for the bed-and-breakfast and long-term rental properties he and his wife, Judit, own in Haiku. Wolfe said that “things have changed so much since 1995,” and the community plan needs to be updated.

“In my opinion, stick with what we’ve got,” Wolfe said of the 2012 short-term rental law. “Eighty-eight is a reasonable limit. And once we’ve reached that, then those of us who still want to try and get in the game should be doing long-term (rentals).”

Dave DeLeon, who’s lived in Haiku for 23 years, said that it wouldn’t be right for law-abiding permit holders “to have the rug pulled out from under them.” DeLeon has two immediate neighbors with short-term rental permits and said “the experience has only been positive.”

“As a neighbor, I prefer to have these homes occasionally occupied than sit empty for most of the year,” DeLeon said. “The legal vacation rental use creates jobs and customers for local businesses, as well as additional real property tax income for the county.”

DeLeon added that most short-term rental properties are large, expensive and unlikely to become affordable long-term rentals.

But Haiku-grown resident Alana D’Andrea said that’s hard to know “if you’re not even going to give them a chance.”

“You could figure out a way where a whole family of people could make it work,” she said. “There’s moms, dads, grandpas and kids. They’re struggling already in the house. Take a big house, get all your friends and move in. They can find a way to make it affordable. I think that’s just an excuse: ‘Oh, they can’t afford it anyway.’ “

Haiku Community Association President Lucienne de Naie hopes there’s a compromise that honors the community plan but doesn’t involve “just pulling the plug” on the permitted operators. She said that her neighborhood in Huelo has multiple bed-and-breakfast owners, who pay extra taxes and “all really go out of their way” to chip in for things like getting gravel for the roadway.

“I’d like to see that part of the taxes that are generated from these commercial (operations) are set aside in each planning district for community improvements,” de Naie said. “I think people would feel better about having this other use in our community if they saw they were getting something for it.”

David Raatz, administrative planning officer, said questions or comments could be sent to planning@mauicounty.gov or by calling his office at 270-7743.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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