Planning Commission recommends a second legal TVR for Molokai.
By Melissa Kelsey
Molokai is an easy place to start a Transient Vacation Rental (TVR), but not while following the law. The bureaucratic process to legally operate a TVR on Molokai is lengthy and arduous, and requires two separate permits.
One Molokai TVR owner determined to operate her business legally is resident Francis Feeter. After an application process that has lasted years, she is finally beginning to see the fruits of her labor. Last Wednesday, the Molokai Planning Commission (MoPC) unanimously passed a motion to recommend to Maui County that she be given both necessary permits to operate her TVR for a period of three years.
“You have the authority to say how many years the permits would be good for. If there are any problems with the rental, you have the right to not renew,” said Feeter to MoPC Commissioners, referencing the limited time condition of the permits.
Some community members expressed relief that Feeter has been rewarded for her efforts to follow the law, believing that the best way to manage TVRs is to prove that it is possible to go through the proper legal channels.
“We have got to allow somebody to be legal,” said community member Rich Young. “I think properly managed, this can work out. This is a balance for our community, and it definitely is not a good thing if it is done illegally,” he said.
Not everyone agreed with the MoPC’s decision to support the permits, a decision that left some community members concerned about the MoPC’s consistency in following laws and granting exceptions.
“The business district is where these vacation rentals are supposed to be allowed,” said community member Linda Place, expressing her views that even existing accommodations on the island are not being filled to capacity.
Others wondered when the Molokai Community Plan would be completed to bring further clarity to the island’s stance on the issue. Some East End residents expressed concern that the TVR approval is not in line with the long-term objectives of the Molokai community, and would set a precedent that the island supports TVRs.
“I would like to encourage the MoPC to please acknowledge our mission statement for the Molokai plan,” said East End community member Marietta Alapai. “I am not against TVRs, but for the East side of the island I am opposed.”
Commissioner Lori Buchanan pointed out that Manae Goods and Grindz on Molokai’s East end is already operating under similar conditional permitting so she believes approval and recommendation of the Feeters’ permits does not set a new precedent.
“I am sure people would not want to go without Manae Goods and Grindz,” said Buchanan.
As for Feeter, she wants to change the image of TVRs as primarily catering to wealthy tourists who are not related to the island and its culture.
“People don’t realize how often TVRs are used by Molokai residents who have guests for family reunions, weddings, and canoe races,” said Feeter.
In Maui County, TVRs are illegal, except in hotel districts. TVRs can only be operated legally if the business owner has a special use permit and a conditional use permit to grant an exception. While the MoPC can approve the special use permit, only Maui County has the authority to give final approval for the conditional use permit. However, the MoPC has to recommend approval of the conditional use permit to Maui County as the first step of the application process. There is only one legal TVR operating on Molokai, while many continue to operate without the necessary permits.
The MoPC is meant to be a community resource to determine whether or not businesses on Molokai are in line with the community’s values, according to Commissioner Lori Buchanan.
“I have seen what the Feeters have done for this community, and how they have been involved,” said Buchanan. “I support legal rentals. If business owners don’t have a permit, close them down. They have to first come through this commission to prove themselves and see if the community will back them up,” she said.
Feeter submitted applications for permits to run her business in 2001, and was denied the permits. She tried again in 2007, but the Molokai Planning Commission put her request on hold.
“What really bothers me is that we were left in limbo,” said Feeter.
She asked them again to review her application again this year with better results. The MoPC unanimously approved a motion to recommend to Maui County that the Feeters be granted the permits on a three-year conditional basis last Wednesday.