HILO — Some longtime vacation rental condos, by a quirk of zoning, are being swept up into a vacation rental bill while those just across Alii Drive are not, an issue that has a crowd ready to speak out at the Leeward Planning Commission meeting.
The meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the West Hawaii Civic Center.
Kona Isle, Kona Pacific, Kona by the Sea, Kona Mansions, Kona Westwind and Kona Eastwind are among condo hotels affected by changes to short-term rentals envisioned in Bill 108. That’s because they’re in a residential multifamily zone that’s just shy of the General Plan resort code, while short-term rentals will be allowed only in resort-hotel or commercial zones.
Jeff King, who lives in Kona Isle, said he understands the impetus behind the bill governing short-term rentals, especially in single-family neighborhoods. But his condo building has been used for vacation rentals since it was built in 1972, he said.
King, like many of his neighbors, worries about properties being devalued if they’re not allowed to be used for vacation rentals. At 500-square-feet, with one parking space, the units are really not suited for long-term family homes, he said.
“Unless you’re a single person, or a couple with one car, it’s not going to work,” King said.
King’s not reassured by the grandfather clause that allows those vacation rentals currently up to date on their taxes to continue using them by obtaining nonconforming use certificates. Nor is he reassured by county officials’ stated plans to give this issue a close look during the current revamp of the county General Plan.
Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha and North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, the sponsors of Bill 108, have been working closely together on the issues as it wends its way through the system.
“We are aware of issues and inconsistencies with some of the zoning in our districts regarding the condo hotels,” Eoff said Friday. “We are looking at possible General Plan amendments to correct this, as the county is currently undergoing and involved in a comprehensive General Plan review process.”
Owners at Kona by the Sea are particularly upset. That property has operated as what association President Todd Miller calls a “condotel,” a condominium with a hotel operation renting the rooms. The building has a front desk, just like a hotel, and the 88-room complex’s rental program includes 17 full-time staff.
“Kona by the Sea is not part of the problem you are targeting,” Miller said in a letter to Kanuha. “Our neighbors are other owners within our complex. Everyone knew it was a vacation rental complex when they purchased so there should be no reason to enact regulation at this complex.”
The bill, now on its fourth draft, still has a long way to go. The Planning Department, in a 56-page document, made 16 recommendations, and the Windward Planning Commission last week added a few of its own.
Once the Leeward Planning Commission agrees to the current draft or makes recommendations, it goes back to the County Council Planning Committee for another hearing and possible amendments, before being forwarded to the council for two more readings.
“I think it’s prudent to await recommendations from the Planning Department and planning commissions before additional amendments to the bill are considered,” Kanuha said.
The short-term rentals aren’t illegal because there’s no county code currently governing them.
“You can make laws going forward, but you can’t take away the property rights from people who are using it legally under today’s code,” Amy Self, a deputy corporation counsel who represents the Planning Department, said last week.
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.