County Seeks Input for Home Biz Bill
The Maui County Council visited Molokai last month asking for community input for a home-based business bill currently under revision. More than 30 home business owners attended, expressing frustration that they were unaware of the bill’s existence. Council members made special arrangements to come back and talk story with the community about what the bill is about and ask what should be changed for Molokai. Yet, when Council members Don Couch and Stacey Crivello arrived for the scheduled meeting last Tuesday, only one home-based business owner attended.
“I want to hear what [laws] fit for Molokai,” said Crivello. “If one size fits all then so be it, but if it doesn’t, now is the time to tell us.”
Couch said the bill was first introduced two years ago after several cases of angry neighbors reported that home-based businesses were causing disturbances in their area. Currently, Couch describes the bill as a restrictive list of standards for home businesses, which are not be suitable for every community. The county has made minor revisions fine-tuning its language and is requesting further input from the public in order to tailor it to their needs.
“Our intent here is not to be the police. As matter of fact, our intent is to make [the bill] a little more flexible for you guys to operate,” said Couch. “We want to make the law a little more subjective and offer more of a protection for the businesses as opposed to cracking down on them.”
According to the proposed bill, the county defines a home business as any activity where the individual residing in the area grows, processes, or manufactures a product, or offers services for profit.
There are currently 355 registered business owners on Molokai and the majority of those businesses are home-based, said Jennifer Hawkins, a small business specialist at the Kuha`o Business Center.
“For me, now I know I’m OK [in compliance] with my business, but I’m just one person,” said local business owner Brenda Kaneshiro, who attended the Tuesday meeting. “There could be a lot of people who may be breaking the current code.”
Existing Standards and Restrictions
Although there are different standards and regulations if you live in a residential, rural or agricultural district, there is a list of permitted-use rules that apply across the board, regardless of which county zone you live in.
“The interesting thing is that the planning commission said ‘please exempt Molokai from [bill revisions],’” said Couch. “But if we exempt Molokai from this, then there are more strict rules [they will need to follow]…the old rules will still be there.”
As the current law stands, your home cannot show visible evidence that it is a business with the exception of one wall sign less than two square feet and you can only employ a maximum of one person if they are not part of your family or living on the premise.
You cannot install any mechanical equipment for your home business unless it is considered a common household appliance and all baseyards — an area used for storing vehicles not in service, materials or equipment — are prohibited.
Additionally, your business cannot use more than 40 percent of any building floor space on your property.
“If someone had a hairdresser business and they have a little 10 by 10 building behind their house, but that whole 10 by 10 is used, how does that play into it?” asked Hawkins.
If a home business uses 100 percent of any building on the premises, explained Couch, the business owner must apply for a special use permit through the state Office of Planning.
“Special use permits are pretty easy to get, but that’s something we can work with,” said Couch.
He suggested that the council make an exception for extra buildings, separate from the home.
The existing bill also states that you cannot hold group instruction, classes, or group sales meetings at your home, and businesses are limited to two customers at a time and a maximum of 16 per day.
However, that could pose a problem for retail businesses that rely on foot traffic to sell their goods.
“It’s all about traffic flow,” said Couch.
An Impact-Based Law
The home business law is meant to prevent any disturbances in the neighborhood, explained Couch.
According to the bill, home businesses must not generate more traffic than seen in a regular neighborhood and it must not interfere with your neighbor’s day-to-day life.
“If you’ve got people coming to your home all day, every day and it’s causing traffic jams and disruptions, then we have to take a look at your business and see if it complies with the law,” Couch said.
County enforcement largely comes from complaints, but it must be a legitimate disturbance as outlined by the current law, not just a cranky neighbor, Couch added.
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, glare, dust, smoke, vibration, electrical disturbances and offensive language.
“This has to be complaint-driven because you don’t want us going around knocking on doors,” said Couch. “But if you make nice with your neighbors and everybody’s fine with your business, chances are that it’s fine with us too.”
According to Couch, the bill requires further revisions before the County Council can pass it. He said he plans to consolidate all public comments received from each island and draft an updated version that will have to go through a public hearing process once again in a couple months.
Couch and Crivello said they would be glad to sit down with the Molokai community one more time to hear any concerns and add exceptions tailored for Molokai. They will work with Hawkins to schedule the next meeting.
“I want our voices to be heard,” Crivello said of fellow Molokai residents. “We need home-based businesses. It’s the economic engine in our community.”
The drafted bill can be viewed online at www.co.maui.hi.us and comments and concerns can be directed to Crivello’s district office at 553-3888. For more information on future home-based business events and hearings, contact Jennifer Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.