‘Wildly unbalanced’ Maui commission potential problem for TVR phase-out

Above, the red-roofed Maui Vista buildings at 2191 S. Kihei Road, consisting of 280 units, are among properties covered by Mayor Richard Bissen’s proposed TVR phase-out.

The following news article by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii was first published by Maui Now on June 4, 2024.

The first stop for Maui Mayor Richard Bissen’s controversial plan to “phase out” more than 7,000 short-term transient vacation rentals is set for June 25 before the Maui Planning Commission — but that could be legally problematic for supporters of the proposed zoning change, according to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaiʻi.

The 2023 Maui County Charter requires district representation for the island of Maui’s nine-member planning commission, but currently the commission is wildly unbalanced.

The Charter requires that “the nine members must include at least one and no more than two members who reside in each council residency area on the island of Maui.”

This requirement was passed as a charter amendment in the 2022 election.

Right now, three of the county’s seven districts have two representatives each, and four of the districts have no representation, which could raise questions about fairness over any recommendations the planning body might make to the Maui County Council.

Two of the six members are from Wailuku, two are from Lahaina and two are from Haʻikū-Pāʻia-Makawao. That leaves no members from the four other districts: Upcountry, East Maui, Kahului and South Maui.

The South Maui vacancy is particularly important because the majority of the properties targeted by Mayor Bissen’s ban are along the South Maui shore, including Kīhei and Wailea.

Both Mayor Bissen and the County Council nominated candidates earlier this year to fill the South Maui seat, but a jurisdictional dispute — highlighted by a lawsuit filed by retired University of Hawaiʻi Maui College economics professor Dick Mayer — means that the seat still might be empty when the Maui Planning Commission meets later this month.

Complicating that dispute further is another 2022 amendment to the Charter — Section 13.2 — which calls for setting up an independent nominating committee for boards and commissions. The members of the new committee have been named, but the group is not actually functioning yet, so it could be a while before the group is able to fill the remaining vacancies.

Michele McLean, aide to Maui Council Chair Alice Lee, said Maui County’s attorneys have advised that members of the Commission who were on board before the charter was updated will be able to serve the rest of their five-year terms, but any new members will have to comply with the Charter requirements.

McLean said that means “the next four new members must be from districts that are not currently represented — namely South [Maui], East [Maui], Kahului and Upcountry.”

Concerning the current vacancies, McLean said “the next three appointments must cover three of those four, leaving only one district not represented.”

She added: “If there are any more resignations over the next several months, or with the next vacancies in 2025, the fourth district will have to be represented, and then all districts will be represented and full compliance will be achieved.”

This might be reassuring for the future, but in the short run, it bodes ill for the mayor’s TVR phase-out plan and for the four unrepresented districts.

Essentially, the longer the delay, the clearer the economic, social and legal consequences of the phase-out will become.

Joe Kent, Grassroot executive vice president, said: “Mayor Bissen’s attempt to remove short-term rentals is looking worse every day.”

Kent said nobody disputes that it is likely to have a catastrophic effect on Maui’s already fragile economy and county budget, but it will also tie up the county and thousands of property owners in the courts for years to come.

“It would just save everyone a lot of grief if Mayor Bissen would just work with the Council to remove the many regulations that make it so hard to build new homes on Maui.

“Let’s forget scapegoating people who have owned and operated these TVRs legally for decades, and focus on practical, feasible ideas that will achieve everyone’s goal of finding new homes for the many Maui residents who were displaced by the devastating August 2023 wildfires.”

For more background on the mayor’s plan to phase out TVRs on the so-called Minatoya List, see the Grassroot Institute article “Plan to ban thousands of TVRs on Maui has rocky road ahead,” published May 17 by Maui Now.

The Minatoya List refers to more than 7,000 condo units built before 1989 along the south and west coasts of Maui. These units are in 104 buildings that have been legally doing business for decades as short-term vacation rentals for stays of less than 30 days. The Bissen legislation proposes to change their zoning to long-term rentals of six months or longer.

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