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County Seeks Input for Home Business Bill

There are currently 355 registered business owners on Molokai and most of them are home based, according to Jennifer Hawkins, small business specialist at the Kuha’o Business Center. These businesses are regulated by the Maui County Council under a bill currently up for revision. But when the council visited Molokai last week, asking for feedback on how to best tailor these standards and encourage small businesses, many Molokai business owners revealed they never knew the ordinance existed.

“I feel very unprepared as do most of us [home-based business owners] here to speak on this,” said local business owner Brenda Kaneshiro before the council Wednesday evening. “Most of us here are not even aware of what’s existing.”

According to Councilman Don Couch, the bill was introduced two years ago after several cases of angry neighbors reported that home-based businesses were causing disturbances in communities across the county. Now under review and revision, the county ordinance is meant to set standards and restrictions for home businesses in residential, rural and agricultural districts, according to the Maui County website.

Currently the ordinance states what kinds of home businesses are appropriate based on zoning codes of the district, how many customers visit the business on a daily basis, and if it would be considered a nuisance to the neighbors.

As a newly added definition to the bill, a “nuisance” is considered to be an activity, “which arises from unreasonable, unwarranted, or unlawful use by the property owner, or an owner’s tenant of the owner’s property that may result in a material annoyance, inconvenience,  and discomfort to the neighborhood or public.” This includes odor, heat, smoke, vibration and offensive noise.

“What this bill really is saying and trying to put into law is, ‘be nice to your neighbors, get them involved beforehand and if they don’t complain, everything will be fine,’” said Couch. “There will be times where things don’t work out right and [this ordinance] is what we can look at for reference.”

The ordinance currently outlines many standards and regulations tailored for Molokai, which, in some cases, defers approval authority to the Molokai Planning Commission for businesses such as commercial hiking, fishing, hunting, and equestrian activities.

Molokai was one the last stops of the council’s tour. More than 30 small home business owners were present at the hearing and some expressed frustrations that they weren’t aware of the ordinance until that day.

“When I started my business in 2004, I went to the county and…I did everything they told me I was supposed to do,” said Kaneshiro. “Now it seems to me that my own home-based business is not even legal at this moment and I think there are many other people, besides me, that don’t know if they are within the law.”

Although Hawkins said she had sent out fliers and published a news release to inform the community of the hearing, Council Chair Gladys Baisa said the county’s communication with Molokai must improve in the future.

“When we come for a hearing and we want you to testify, you don’t testify because you don’t know what to testify on,” she said. “It’s very difficult and I understand the problem. It’s very important because we want this law to work for everybody, otherwise what’s the point?”

Of those who testified, some suggested a workshop in the near future to help business owners understand the ordinance’s legal jargon. Couch promised he and Crivello would schedule a time with Hawkins to return to the island next month. He would conduct a walk-through of the ordinance and ask the public what policies need to be tailored for Molokai.

“Since we are such a diverse community, we can’t do ‘one size fits all’…and I want to make sure that we are trying to help smaller businesses thrive,” said Couch.

For more information on future community business events and hearings, contact Jennifer Hawkins at jennifer.hawkins@mauicounty.gov.


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