HAIKU - Since the new Maui County ordinance intended to clarify and speed up the bed-and-breakfast permitting system went into effect in January, 33 percent of the applicants - so far - have received licenses to open their homes and ohanas to guests, Planning Director Jeff Hunt said.
County planners, in coordination with a litany of other departments, had the new system in place and began processing permits in March. The Planning Department has approved 18 permits out of 54 applications filed for bed-and-breakfasts since then, Hunt said.
"I think it's important for people to realize it's a lot faster than the old system," Hunt said. "It's not greased lightning, but it is moving along."
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The Hookipa Bayview Cottage in Haiku recently received a permit under the county’s new approval process for bed-and-breakfast operations. Eighteen B&B permits have been approved since the new process was put in place in March, compared with 14 in the previous decade.
In a brief status report to Mayor Charmaine Tavares a month ago, Hunt noted that under the old ordinance only 14 B&B permits were approved between 1997 and 2008.
By all accounts, the new ordinance makes it much easier to get a B&B up and running outside of hotel districts and a few previously grandfathered-in apartment districts, where they are allowed without permits. A B&B is a small tourist accommodation often in residential neighborhoods where the owner-proprietor lives on-site and provides guests breakfast. Proponents have said the low-key accommodations - along with their more controversial cousins, transient vacation rentals - are the linchpins of the islands' tourism-based economy.
But many residents have said it's just annoying to live near one. Tavares said that's why she made the controversial order last year to shut down TVRs and B&Bs that had been operating without permits and pushed for the new legislation.
"Lots of people come up and thank me for that, for sticking to my guns," said Tavares, whose decision was supported by the courts. "Someone came up to me today while I was at lunch at Tasty Crust and told me the TVR next door is gone, and long-term renters are in the house now. He said, 'I got my neighborhood back.' "
Today, most B&Bs can operate in residential, business, rural and agricultural zones without undergoing the exhaustive process to obtain a conditional use permit. But there is a cap on the total number of B&Bs that can be allowed, and neighbors have recourse if they don't want one on their block or if the owner isn't keeping guests in line with a fresh set of rules that include quiet hours and on-street parking bans.
"It's absolutely better than what we used to have; now it takes six months versus six years to get a permit," said Dave DeLeon, government affairs director for the Realtors Association of Maui, which also participated in formulating the new B&B law. "The process is liberalized."
Perhaps the biggest change is that the Planning Department director has the authority to approve most B&B permit applications, except for ones on agricultural land. Then, an application first goes to its respective island planning commission to get a state special use permit. The prospective proprietor also must prove to the county that it's working farmland, earning at least $35,000 in gross revenue if the property is larger than 5 acres. Smaller agricultural properties must show an approved and implemented farm plan.
Under the old law, all B&B applications went through the Planning Department, the Planning Commission and the Maui County Council. It was a laborious process that many owners opted to avoid by operating without permits.
A few owners said they received cost estimates of up to $48,000 for a private consultant to handle the workload of the old permit process for them. Most people opt to do it themselves, they said.
The separate process to create legislation covering transient vacation rentals will likely be held for a while as the County Council and its Planning Committee deal with the massive General Plan update.
Meanwhile, the number of B&Bs has been capped at 48 in Hana, 100 in South Maui, 40 in Upcountry, 88 in Paia-Haiku, 36 in Central Maui and 88 in West Maui - a total of 400 for the island.
To date, Paia-Haiku leads the list with 10 permitted B&Bs; West Maui has seven; Wailuku-Kahului has two; Upcountry has one; and Hana has none. Several of the B&Bs in the Planning Department's July report received permits under the old system.
Permits on Molokai and Lanai are approved by those island planning commissions. The number of permits approved so far on the Pineapple and Friendly isles was not readily available.
The report also notes that there are up to 16,000 apartments, condos and homes in Maui County legally eligible to operate as B&Bs or transient vacation rentals, where the owners live offsite, because they are located in areas already zoned for hotel and apartment use.
DeLeon said he expects the number of bed-and-breakfast applications to increase or decrease based upon real property tax rates set for the properties by the Maui County Council during its annual budgeting process in May. The council established a new tax classification for B&Bs and TVRs this summer to accompany the new ordinance.
Barbara and Hank Kline are the proud owners of Aloha Ho'okipa Bayview Cottage in Haiku, www.hookipabayview.com which was one of the first to get a permit about four months ago under the new ordinance.
The Klines live in their home and rent out their ohana on agricultural-zoned property, a setup not allowed under the old ordinance without a costly conditional use permit and state consent. They said they had begun the application process in 2002 and had been operating until the mayor's January 2008 shutdown decree.
Michael Sullivan, who owns Upcountry Bed-and-Breakfast in Kula, www.upcountrybandb.com said he spent 18 months and $20,000 to get his permit in 2005. And much of the work he did himself, he said.
"I'm not sure what the new process is, but a lot of the old process was absolutely repetitious," Sullivan said.
The new system appears to still have many of the same flaws, such as duplication of building inspections and document submission requirements to various departments like Fire, Water and Public Works that should already have the information on file, the Klines said.
But, overall, they said, they are very happy with the changes and gave much of the credit to the Maui Vacation Rental Association and to Hunt.
"One of the biggest problems we've encountered is bringing the homes into compliance," Hunt said. "Public Works estimates that about 50 percent of the applicants have built things without building permits, which is causing delays in the processing."
Hunt said he expects better coordination and other process improvements, but he also said that the careful review the public deserves takes time, and that planners have large caseloads.
The new law was crafted by the Planning Department and Corporation Counsel with the details hammered out during myriad hours of hearings last year by the County Council's Planning Committee, often in informal consultation with the MVRA. Most B&B owners testified that they rented out rooms simply to make ends meet and enjoyed meeting visitors from around the world. Many are retirees.
Tourism proponents said B&Bs are a vital accommodations' alternative to resorts and hotels and often supply more affordable rooms to surfers and windsurfers along the north shore, where few, if any, big hotels exist.
"This is a giant positive step," Barbara Kline said. "It will bring a lot of money to Maui."
The couple said business is good. Now if only the recession would subside, it would be even better, they said.
Links to the 17-page amended B&B ordinance as well as the 22-page bed-and-breakfast application and a "frequently asked questions" page can be found online on the county Planning Department's Web site at www.co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?NID=1206.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.