Above the Law

Legal Vacation Rentals a Murky Ordeal

By Catherine Cluett

Frances Feeter has been trying to operate a Transient Vacation Rental since 2001. Her biggest problem so far is trying to do it legally.

Transient Vacation Rentals (TVR’s) have long been a sensitive issue on Molokai. There’s only one legal TVR operating on Molokai, and, according to Mayor Charmaine Tavares in 2007, there are over 1000 illegal TVR’s operating in Maui County.

“I feel it is unfair to target people who were going through the process legally,” says Feeter.

Since filing an application for operation of a TVR, Feeter says they were required to cease operation despite the fact that many other vacation rentals on the island are still operating illegally.

Frances and Bill Feeter first brought their application before the Molokai Planning Commission eight years ago, when it reportedly met with public opposition.

Commissioners say they haven’t seen any other TVR applications since the Feeter’s at that time.

The Feeters tried again in 2007. At that time, the application was deferred because
the County was in the process of updating its TVR ordinance.  The Molokai Community Plan was also awaiting update. Members of the Molokai Planning Commission thought that both documents would lend clarity to a situation that has caused much debate in the community.

“We might have been naïve at the time in thinking that the county would move forward expeditiously [with updating these documents],” said Steve Chaikin, current chairperson of the Molokai Planning Commission.

Two years later, Commissioners are still waiting to see both the ordinance and the community plan completed. But the Feeters are determined to get due process, and are requesting that the Planning Commission reconsider their request for a special use permit and conditional permit for their TVR at Pukoo in East Molokai.

Molokai planner Nancy McPherson says, as of now, all TVR operations are supposed to be closed, except for the one operating legally on Molokai’s east end. She adds, however, that enforcement is dependant on complaints being received about the operations. She says that because of the island’s tight-knit community, complaints are rare.

McPherson says she is not aware of any formal complaints filed about the Feeter’s vacation rental operation.

“I don’t understand what is so terrible about a vacation rental that employs local people, is community oriented, and has proper insurance and everything,” Feeter explains.

She says some TVR’s on the island may not operate under these standards. “I think vacation rentals should be judged individually,” she says.

A Bed and Breakfast ordinance was passed at the end of last year, allowing B & B’s to operate under certain restrictions, but owners must still follow a lengthy application process in order to operate under this distinction.

Owners of Bed and Breakfast operations must live on the property, while operators of vacation rentals are not required to reside within property limits.

“Transient vacation rental” is defined by the County of Maui as use of a house or lodging unit by visitors for a period of less than 180 days.

According to a January 2008 draft of the Transient Vacation Rental ordinance, the purpose of the ordinance is to limit the locations in which TVR’s can be operated – commercial zoning, areas in which hotels are permitted, and areas defined by the island’s community plan – so as to “manage the economic resource of tourism and to ensure that this resource does not remove housing inventory intended for long-term residents.”

Molokai Planning Commission member Lori Buchanan says special use and conditional use permits are already being used successfully on the island’s east end, citing Manae Goods and Grindz as a good example. She adds that a conditional permit is just that – conditional. Conditions are placed upon granting the permit, and the applicant’s success and adherence must be reviewed periodically.

“It has worked well for Molokai in the past,” she says, offering support for the Feeter’s effort to comply with regulations.

Members of the Molokai Planning Commission voted to reconsider the Feeter’s application, and it will be discussed during the Commission’s March 25th meeting.

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