KAILUA-KONA — The County Council chamber at West Hawaii Civic Center was packed with people to voice their input on proposed rules regulating the rentals on the island.
On Thursday evening, more than 40 people voiced concerns over what the draft rules for the new law outlined. Prior to public comment, Planning Director Michael Yee clarified the hearing was about rule making.
“The bill passed last November,” he said. “There is no debate what is in the content of the bill.”
The rule process follows passage of Bill 108 last year, requiring regulation of short-term rentals of property where the owner doesn’t live on-site.
Yee added this is also not a County Council hearing. It’s not a situation where the most votes on one side wins. This is about trying to understand how the bill was intended to be and for the department to be able to administer it.
“If any of them had issues with the content of the bill to contact their County Council member,” the planning director said.
A recurring issue that came up with the public was nonconforming use permit. According to the rule, vacation rentals not in allowed zoning districts must apply for a nonconforming use permit, which must be renewed annually with a $250 renewal fee.
Heather Bandt is a resident of Kona for four months of the year and a farmer in Wisconsin for the remaining months of the year. She spoke saying they built their home in Kona in 2007.
“Being regulated and complying with regulations, there are two things that are really important: clarity, clear rules that are objective,” Bandt said.
To offset the expense of their house, Bandt said, they make it a vacation rental.
“Now we’re in a nonconform short-term vacation rental,” she said.
Since 2011, Bandt said they’ve done everything above board. What she asked for clear rules regarding what is a verifiable complaint and how many are allowed.
“I may not be a constituent, since I’m not a resident … but I pay property taxes that are over 50 percent higher than the resident,” she said.
“Since 2011 over a quarter of million dollars that I’ve put back into the economy here in Hawaii,” Bandt said. “I hope this isn’t an attempt to get rid of all vacation rentals because I’d hope we’d contributed.”
Kamalani Duerksen also addressed the nonconforming rule in regards to the director’s authority of approval and denial of a certificate.
Within the rules, the planning director has the ability to make a decision regarding the nonconforming use based on density of other vacation rentals in the neighborhood. Duerksen said the selective enforcement is unfair.
“The rule needs to constitute and ensure that equal and fair opportunity for property owners to obtain a certificate,” she said.
Cathy Sinclair addressed the “good neighbor policy.” The “good neighbor” rules that set quiet hours from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. and bar unpermitted events such as weddings, special performances and sponsored events.
Sinclair said the rules are good — the concern is the followup when a problematic rental continues to violate the rule.
“When the nuisances continue, how does this get addressed so that license doesn’t get renewed for another year?” she asked.
Input was also provided on the rental posting and assigning a “reachable person.” According to the rule, a reachable person must live on the island and must be reachable 24/7 by guests, neighbors and county agencies.
Corrie Gulsrud, vacation rental manager for Caldwell Banker Island Vacations, said it’s completely understandable that a person be available. However, she pointed out the reachable standard deserves another look and perhaps more clarity.
The bill, Gulsrud said, is essentially asking her and her peers to be police and security for the home.
“It scares me to think that I may be expected to come to a rental at 3 a.m. to break off a fight or handle drunk guests,” she said. “This is an issue typically reserved for specially trained professionals. We would potentially put in harm’s way.”
Gulsrud said the current verbiage can be misused and misinterpreted.
There was also concern about the printing of names and addresses in newspaper publications.
A public hearing will also take place today at Aupuni Center in Hilo at 5:30 p.m. The rules will then be finalized, taking public input into account and presented at a final public hearing April 2 before going into effect April 15.
The draft rules are available at the Planning Department’s Hilo and Kona offices and online at http://www.hiplanningdept.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/PD_RULE23_DRAFT.pdf
Written comments may be submitted in person at the public hearings or be submitted to the Planning Department at Aupuni Center, 101 Pauahi St., Suite 3, Hilo, HI 96720.