In an ongoing effort to manage tourism, the Maui County Council passed Bill 159 Friday with a series of amendments that effectively caps transient accommodations and regulates camper van rentals on public property. The bill was passed in a 8-0 vote on second and final reading, with Councilmember Kelly King excused.
The bill was drafted to create a “point-in-time freeze” on all currently allowed short term rental uses, and “much needed regulation” on the camper van rental industry, according to backers.
“The recent strong push for tangible management initiatives is a new component, and with anything new, there are growing pains,” said Vice Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who introduced the bill. Expressing bittersweet sentiment, she explained the current bill was amended down significantly.
Transient Vacation Rentals, as defined by the County of Maui are any rental of a housing unit for less than 180 days. The Maui County Code Chapter 19.37 prohibits transient vacation rentals outside of the hotel district, but there is a conditional permit process for operations outside of the district. They differ from Bed and Breakfast operations, which are allowed in business and residential districts with a permit. The county estimates that there are 16,000-plus TVRs that may operate legally in Maui County.
The proposed caps are intended to keep the number of transient accommodations “status quo,” said Rawlins-Fernandez. She explained that if an owner was operating or had the option to operate at the date of the bill’s passage, that use would be allowed to continue; but after adoption, no other growth or increase would occur.
“This approach was taken after the advice of legal counsel to avoid any potential legal challenges from property owners that would claim takings which could be very costly to taxpayers,” said Rawlins-Fernandez.
The council identified zoning districts that currently allow Short Term Rentals, and created a cap for each district, including the Lahaina Historic District 1 and 2, Apartment district, Business Country Town, Business District 2 and 3, Business Resort, Planned Development, Hotel, and Timeshare.
But even with the council’s efforts in “pouring through the code,” and the six months of work invested by the Tourism Management and Economic Development Temporary Investigative Group, member Tamara Paltin said there were areas like Project District that were unintentionally missed. She said the passage of the bill did not mark an end of the discussion.
Rawlins-Fernandez said decisions made by previous council majorities “signaled automatic support of further unfettered expansion and new development.”
Paltin said that when decisions were made to support tourism, hotel expansion, and marketing Maui, “there was not a plan of the complete vision or when to stop, or when to have the balance.”
“I agree this isn’t everything–all that we would have wanted– but it’s a step in the second term and what we really need to do, [to] continue discussion not only of management, but of diversification, of other types of management, of using the Maui County TAT (Transient Accommodations Tax) to invest in the infrastructure to offset and mitigate the impacts. So I mean, really this is another step in the beginning of the discussion. It’s definitely not the end of the discussion, and it’s not the only way to manage tourism,” said Paltin.
Included in the bill is a chapter that prohibits temporary parking of camper vans, recreational vehicles and trailers or similar apparatus used for transient accommodations, unless the activity is authorized by a zoning permit.
An amendment was made to include vehicles with pop-up tents, and language was added to allow for the activity in areas where it is specifically permitted.
The revisions were made after several business owners who operate camper van rental companies on Maui testified against the bill saying it was “ambiguous” and contradictory to other provisions of the Maui County Code.
Prior to the amendment approval, an attorney representing Zazu Campers LLC and an alliance of companies operating recreational rental vehicles businesses on Maui, said the county does not have the authority to completely ban a specific type of vehicle, and argued that rental vehicles are regulated by state, not county law.
Members of a newly formed alliance consisting of eight rental companies on Maui, said the combined businesses operate approximately 65 vehicles between them, and questioned the overall impact this provision would have on tourism management.
Fearing the original version of the bill would strip him and others like him of their livelihoods, Sean, the owner of Epic Maui Rentals LLC, said, “This won’t make a dent in the root issue that the bill aims to address. It won’t remove illegally parked cars on the side of the road; It won’t remove illegal encampments on the beach; It won’t protect the land or lessen over tourism. There are currently 741 registered homeless people on this island and at least 15,000 people staying at hotels and resorts on any given day.”
The council ultimately heard the argument and amended the bill to provide better clarity on the specific “on the ground” impact to the camper van industry.
“It means that they can still do the activity where it is specifically permitted, said Paltin,noting that that there are permitted areas at National Parks and Camp Olowalu where there are facilities for such activity.
Paltin said that if the vehicles stay in designated areas that have the resources to accommodate them, and there’s still room for residents to enjoy camping as well, “it’s not a horrible thing.”
Department of the Corporation Counsel’s Michael J. Hopper said the pop-up tents language added clarity and was consistent with the intent of the prohibition. There was also language added–“unless specifically permitted”–which deals with cases where camper van parking might be permitted, whether it be in a state park or in a place where the County issues a permit for use.
“I do believe that this is within the county’s purview. H.R.S. does allow the County some authority to regulate the use of vehicles for human habitation, so I think this is consistent with that,” he said.