Hawaii County holds final hearing on vacation rental rules

  • Michael Yee

Hawaii County planning officials heard from residents on all sides of the short-term vacation rental issue during the final hearing before new rules are adopted.

The testimony Tuesday evening in Hilo reflected the divide between those who see nonhosted rentals as an important part of the island’s tourist economy and others who say they change the character of residential neighborhoods or lower the quality of life.


One of the short-term vacation rental critics, Dawn Breen, said there are four on her street alone near Honolii.

“We don’t know who is staying there,” she said, after noting bad behavior by visitors. Breen said she’d like to see limits on the number of nonhosted rentals in a neighborhood.

Most testifiers presented a positive view of the businesses. Supporters say they are beneficial to communities, and continued to object to some of the rules, particularly related to those in nonconforming areas, that they say stifle business.

Puna resident Tiffany Edwards Hunt noted her experience staying in an Airbnb in Hawi.

“The Airbnbs are providing some really important economic benefits to these little communities that would roll up and die without” visitors, she said.

Under the bill passed by the County Council, nonhosted vacation rentals are only authorized in resort and commercial zoned areas. Existing rentals in other areas need to get a nonconforming use permit to be grandfathered.

Several objected to a comment from Planning Director Michael Yee about the process for nonconforming use permits not being easy by design.

In response to the criticism, he said the process is not meant to be as easy as those in conforming areas.

“Overtime, we want to see a reduction” in vacation rentals in nonconforming areas, he said, citing the intent of the bill. He said he supports creating “destination areas” that could expand the conforming areas, but that would have to be done through the council.

The hearing was the third held by the county on this issue. Rules are expected to be adopted on or around April 19.

Those with rentals currently in existence need to register by Sept. 28.

Owners have to pay a $500 application fee, while those in nonconforming areas also must pay a $250 annual renewal fee.

Documents needed to apply include proof of being current with permits and taxes, a site plan and a floor plan, in addition to other steps. It was noted at the hearing that the county doesn’t keep all of its building plans, so applicants might have to do some digging of their own.


Planning officials said they can be called at 961-8288 with questions.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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