Maui Council passes bill to end hotel moratorium, but cap transient vacation rentals
October 22, 2022, 1:48 PM HST
* Updated October 23, 9:11 PM
In a long and at times heated meeting that ended at 9:43 p.m. Friday, the Maui County Council passed Bill 159 that would end the temporary hotel moratorium, prohibit camper van usage as tourist lodging and continue the cap on transient vacation rentals.
The bill amends the existing comprehensive zoning ordinance in areas that relate to transient accommodation caps. The goal was more permanent legislation to limit vacation lodging to address over-tourism. The hotel moratorium ends in January 2024 unless other action is taken.
The County Council voted eight in favor, one excused and one lone dissenter: Councilwoman Kelly Takaya King, who represents South Maui, one of the tourist hotbeds on the island that has been affected by increased traffic and other issues.
“This bill does not put a cap on any new hotel rooms in South Maui. It just says they canʻt be within the sea level rise area,” Councilmember King said. “I appreciate that the members are trying to take a step, but to me this is a step backward to where we are with the moratorium.”
Key parts of the amended ordinance passed by the County Council:
- The hotel moratorium (ordinance 5316) would be repealed. It became law on Jan. 7, 2022, when the council overrode Mayor Michael Victorino’s veto. It placed a moratorium on new transient units for two years, or until the council implements recommendations by a Tourism Management Temporary Investigative Group.
- Under the amended ordinance, new hotel construction or expansion would be allowed with the condition that the new units must be “landward of the mapped line for coastal erosion at 3.2 feet of sea level rise, as determined by the director from the State of Hawaiʻi sea level rise viewer hosted by the pacific islands ocean observing system.”
- Timeshare construction would be allowed in certain areas, but with a conditional use permit and the same sea level rise-based location requirements as hotels.
- The restriction remains that no new transient vacation rentals (TVRs) can be built on the island, with only those allowed before Jan. 7, 2022 to be legal. The amended ordinance allows those existing rentals to reconstruct, renovate or expand “if no new rooms or transient vacation rental units are added.”
- The ordinance also adds that new construction with “any proposed ground-altering activity in culturally sensitive areas as determined by the county archeologist is referred to the State Historic Preservation Division.”
- In all zoning districts, temporary or permanent parking of camper vans, recreational vehicles, trailers or similar apparatus that are used or rented for commercial transient accommodations would be prohibited.
- Applications for transient accommodations submitted prior to the effective date of this ordinance may be processed in accordance with the provisions in effect at the time the application was submitted.
The final bill was a huge compromise, the result of months of public and behind-the-scenes work. It took into consideration the often passionate and personal testimony of hundreds of residents, business owners, vacation rental property owners and lobbyists.
The testimony was emotionally divided between those who say tourism and its associated businesses are the economic lifeblood of the island — and others who believe the increasing influx of visitors is destroying the ʻāina and the resident’s way of life, and needs to be limited.
“This one issue, I’ve never seen so much passion on this one issue,” said longtime Councilmember Mike Molina. “We understand we need the tourism dollars but at the same time for Kamaʻāina it’s about quality of life, too.”
Many of the council members said they were voting for a compromise bill that was better than doing nothing.
“This wasn’t easy for me to do. This wasn’t what I wanted,” said Council Vice-Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who spearheaded the amended ordinance and had introduced the hotel moratorium bill. “I appreciate all the members who have been supportive of not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I look forward to working with everyone in the next term to continue this work. Because it is just the beginning.”
Councilmember Shane Sinenci added: “Like the other members, this is not exactly what all of us thought it was or had in mind, but it is a step.”
Or as Chair Alice Lee said: “Of course being a compromise, nobody loved it.”
Next, Bill 159 goes before the Maui Planning Commission at its Nov. 7 meeting and then to corporate counsel for review.
Many people testified in person or in writing that the number of accommodations already was too much for the island with a population of 166,000, according to the 2020 census.
“Itʻs scary how crowded itʻs gotten,” testified an emotional Cheryl Hendrickson. “This bill is a step in the right direction. .. It wonʻt stop tourists from coming, but it wonʻt get worse.”
According to 2021 data from Maui County, the Valley Isle has 24,425 visitor lodging units. The breakdown:
- 41 hotels, 8,336 rooms
- 13,029 residential condominiums used for transient lodging
- 165 single family bed & breakfast
- 420 permitted/grandfathered single-family transient lodging
- 2,475 timeshare dwelling condominium units
- 134 hotel zoned condominiums not used for transient lodging
“Please, please, please we already have too many tourists!” wrote Tom Mellin, a resident of Kīhei. “Over-tourism will destroy Maui not just for residents, but also for tourists who want to go to someplace special. Do not listen to those who want to make a quick buck and who do not care about the long term effects of too many tourists.”
But many people also testified that the ordinance goes against their rights as property owners.
And then there were organizations that originally were against the bill that now supported it after it was watered down during a 5-hour-long Planning and Sustainable Land Use committee meeting on Oct. 20.
Lisa Paulson, a paid lobbyist representing the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association, testified: “Weʻre very supportive of the amendments. … Particularly exempting new hotel units mauka of 3.2 feet of the erosion line.”
And she added: “Thereʻs no doubt there needs to be a better balance to Maui tourism.”
A representative of the Hawaiʻi Hotel Alliance said the organization also was supporting the bill if it included the revisions made in the Oct. 20 committee meeting.
She thanked “those who took the time” to meet with her and another representative over the weekend and after hours to discuss finding a middle ground on the bill.
“I am kind of excited to actually stand here today and instead of seeing me opposed, that we actually support [the bill],” the representative said. “HHA, we do understand that we really need a better system of managing tourism. We hear the community. … We want to be part of the solution. We donʻt want to be considered part of the problem.”
But allowing the building of more hotel rooms is not solving the problem, according to King.
“I feel for all the folks who are fighting the expansion at the Grand Wailea and other areas and this is going to take the winds out of their sails,” she said “I know this is not what members attended.”
She added: “This is really hard for me [not to vote for Bill 159], but I feel like I have to stand up for my community and for the many testifiers who said: ‘Let’s put the Kama’aina first. Letʻs put the kanaka first. Let’s put the ʻāina firstʻ.”
This comment drew the ire of Vice-Chair Rawlins-Fernandez: “We did add no ground-altering activity can be done in culturally sensitive areas. I am kanaka. I have been a champion for our people. I have put blood, sweat and tears into this legislation and I donʻt appreciate fake champions trying to speak up right now without doing any work to advance this legislation.”
Before the final vote, Councilmember King said: “I appreciate everybody else’s point of view. But I don’t appreciate the racist attack on me.”
To lighten the mood, Councilmember Gabe Johnson said: “We can all agree on no Chevy van camping.”