After more than 50 people testified on the hot topic of visitor accommodation on Wednesday, a council committee gave the green light to a measure that would impose an island-wide moratorium on building permits for new hotels and other hospitality units.
The council’s planning and sustainable land use committee voted 5-2, with council members Yuki Lei Sugimura and Tasha Kama dissenting and Alice Lee and Kelly King apologizing, recommending approval of a proposal which would maintain the number of current transitional accommodation units until the council implements the recommendations of a temporary tourism management inquiry group, or two years, whichever comes first.
Introduced by Vice-President Keani Rawlins-Fernandez in June, the proposal would impose a moratorium on new transitional accommodation – including hotels, timeshares, short-term rental homes and temporary vacation rental units – across the island of Maui. A planning department’s version of the bill was recently approved by the Maui Planning Commission. The proposed moratorium is now heading towards the full council.
Council members passed a proposed moratorium on building permits for visitor accommodation in South and West Maui in July, but the mayor vetoed it, and council then decided not to not overrule the veto for legal issues related to the bill.
The majority of witnesses on Wednesday, however, showed up to debate separate measures that would phase out vacation rentals in the county’s apartment zoning districts. These proposals were ultimately postponed and will be resubmitted at a future meeting, according to committee chair Tamara Paltin.
Many witnesses said they were short-term rental owners or affiliated with the industry. Opponents of the measures said phasing out the units would have legal and financial repercussions, as well as unintended consequences.
Jen Russo, executive director of the Maui Vacation Rental Association, said vacation rentals are the biggest contributor to the County’s Affordable Housing Fund in fiscal year 2022, with $ 8.5 million generated. Since 2018, they have contributed $ 18.9 million to the fund, which is more than hotels, owner-occupied properties and other businesses, she said.
“By eliminating the units from this tax classification, we are emptying our county’s source of income”, Russo said. “Vacation rentals make up 37% of our county property tax revenues and as such are an important part of our local economy. And they support a network of small businesses that keep their money spent in our local economy. “
South Maui State Representative Tina Wildberger said she supports the hotel moratorium but asked council “proceed with caution” on phasing out short-term rentals in residential areas due to unanticipated economic impacts.
Robin Knox, a resident of Kihei, testified in favor of the phase-out, saying the unhindered tourism industry is drying up Maui’s vital resources that are already in limited supply.
“Money cannot replace the loss of water” she said.
Cheryl Hendrickson, another Maui resident supporting the phase-out plan, said many people who oppose it are disconnected from the culture and community of Hawaii and housing is needed for residents.
“They don’t even know how to pronounce our words” she said.
Currently, there are about 24,425 visitor accommodation units in the county, according to officials. In comparison, there are 27,000 exemptions for homeowners, according to the county property tax department.
Of the visitor accommodation, approximately 8,336 are hotel rooms; 13,029 are apartments or condos (including 7,300 in apartment districts and 3,000 of those that are mauka of the area of exposure to sea level rise); 2,475 are timeshare units; 165 are guesthouses; and 420 are other types of temporary vacation rentals.
The measure to phase out short-term rentals in apartment districts would focus on apartment districts – in particular the 3,000 which are mauka of the area of exposure to sea level rise, according to Paltin.
“Many of these units were homes for everyone before 2014” when the county authorized short-term rental operations in unlicensed districts, she said.
Paltin said the purpose of the meeting is not to attack the visitor industry.
“The theme of today’s meeting centers around Maui’s overall plan goal: To maintain a lasting balance between resident, part-time resident and visitor populations. “ she said.
* Kehaulani Cerizo can be contacted at [email protected]