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Road Less Traveled

Molokai’s second legal vacation rental approved.

Sometimes, the destination does not seem worth the journey. Such is the case with Frances and Bill Feeter, whose transient vacation rental (TVR) just became the second such establishment to operate legally on Molokai. Nine years after they filed their first application, the Maui County Council’s Land Use Committee unanimously approved the Feeter’s permit last week.
 
“It’s a great relief,” Frances Feeter said of finally receiving the permit to operate legally. But if she could do it again, Feeter said they probably would not go through the process.

The Feeters first applied for the needed permits from the Molokai Planning Commission in 2001. Frances Feeter said they believe in operating legally, and wanted to follow the proper process. But the issue reportedly met with public opposition.

They 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.

But two years later, neither of those documents had been completed. In the mean time, the Feeters were required to cease operations. Last year, the Molokai Planning Commission decided to reconsider the Feeter’s application and after much deliberation, granted the conditional use permit for the Puko`o property. It took nearly a year to come before the County Council for final approval.

Other Applicants
Mikal Torgerson, Molokai planner for Maui County, said there are currently six pending applications for TVRs on Molokai. There are several factors that make the application “palatable,” according to Torgerson.
 
“Local ownership is a big one,” he explained.
 
Torgerson said he tells applicants right off the bat that if they do not live on-island, he will recommend their applications for denial. Of the six open applications, he said three have requested to withdraw after he informed them of his policy.
 
“Good stewardship is the key” to successful TVRs, according to Torgerson. He said he believes the Feeter’s local residency and history of community involvement played a large role in their application’s approval.
 
Since he accepted the position as Molokai Planner in January, Torgerson said he has been working on faster turn-around on all applications.
 
Legalities
The issues surrounding TVRs are not new ones.

“The County Council has been debating TVR legislation for some time,” said Torgerson. But, he added, they developed the Bed and Breakfast ordinance first in 2008, and TVRs currently seem to be on the back burner.

B&B owners must live onsite, whereas operators of TVRs do not have to even live on island. “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 TVRs can be operated – commercial zoning, areas in which hotels are permitted, and areas defined by the island’s community plan.

A conditional use permit and state special use permit are required to legally operate a TVR, according to Torgerson. A conditional use permit is just that — conditions are placed upon granting the permit, and the applicant’s success and adherence must be reviewed periodically. The Feeters were granted the permit for a period of three years, after which they must re-apply.

What would Frances Feeter tell others who are trying to legitimate their operation through the county? “Good luck,” she said.

With only one hotel on Molokai, many visitors rely on vacation rentals for lodging. The county estimates twenty to thirty TVRs currently operate without permits on Molokai, but there’s no way to be sure. Enforcement is reportedly based on a complaint-based system. The county zoning enforcement officer could not be reached for comment.

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