HILO — Hawaii County Council members approved a fourth version of a vacation rental bill Tuesday, fine-tuning a measure that’s generated a lot of controversy from those on both sides of the issue.
The council Planning Committee agreed to a bevy of changes before forwarding the package to the Leeward and Windward planning commissions for their input. Bill 108, which was introduced early this year and postponed four times, will then come back to the County Council for two more readings.
An amendment initiated by Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara broadens the grandfather clause, setting a one-time registration fee of $250 for any existing vacation rental, whether it’s in an allowable county zone or not. Those in disallowed zones would pay an annual $250 fee for a nonconforming use permit.
The amended version also requires notification of neighbors within 300 feet of a new vacation rental, establishes a good neighbor policy and quiet hours and allows the county to approve new vacation rentals when nonconforming vacation rental units are lost during a declared emergency.
The Planning Department is empowered to enforce regulations and fine violators, with procedures and fines set in line with other planning and zoning violations.
“She hit a home run; she hit on all the issues,” said Mayor Harry Kim’s Executive Assistant Roy Takemoto.
The bill was originally proposed by the Kim administration.
Other amendments grandfather in all vacation rentals operating legally as of the effective date of the new law, rather than an arbitrary date that had to be postponed every time the bill was.
Hawaii County is the only county in the state that has no regulations governing the short-term rentals promoted by such companies as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.
“This has been a really great exercise. … It’s still been difficult to find all the right language and make sure everything is fair and legal,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, one of the sponsors of the measure. “We’re taking a very — I’m not going to say middle of the road — but just a fair approach to take advantage of the opportunities vacation rentals present but also to protect our neighborhoods.”
The measure is an attempt to prohibit unhosted short-term rentals in residential and agricultural zones, while allowing them in hotel and resort zones as well as commercial districts. Existing rentals in disallowed areas would be able to be grandfathered in by applying for a nonconforming use certificate that must be renewed annually.
Bill 108 applies only to unhosted, short-term or vacation rentals where the owner does not live on site. Hosted rentals, such as bed and breakfasts and home-sharing units, are not addressed in the bill.
The bill tries to strike a balance between residents facing an inundation of vacationers in their once-quiet neighborhoods, and those trying to supplement their income, or make an income, by renting homes to vacationers.
It also seeks to comply with state law that allows only farm dwellings on land in state agriculture districts. That means each vacation rental within the agriculture boundary on land rezoned since 1976 must be handled on a case-by-case basis through a special use permit, said Deputy Planning Director Daryn Arai.
Not all council members were pleased with the bill as it stood after four series of revisions. But they agreed it was time to get more technical help from the planning commissions.
“It would appear from the hours of testimony, the literally hundreds of communications we have received on this, the interest and concern as we work on this legislation, we are headed in the right direction,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. “We have heard it all. … When everyone’s equally unhappy, we will have finally struck the balance.”