HILO — The island’s two planning commissions are making it easier for farms to lure and accommodate tourists.
The Windward Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously endorsed a measure that creates a new category of “minor” agri-tourism business that can bypass many of the rules imposed on larger operations. The measure, which also must be approved by the Leeward Planning Commission before going to the County Council, also eliminates the need for a site inspection before agri-tourism businesses can receive plan approval.
“This is one step in the right direction,” said Comissioner Wallace Ishiboshi. “It’s going to help the farmers.”
Meanwhile, the Leeward Planning Commission on May 17 will tackle a related rule tightening requirements on bed and breakfasts by expanding requirements for use permits from the commission in certain zoning designations.
Minor agri-tourism operations are defined as operations that see 15,000 visitors or less a year, with a weekly maximum of 350 visitors. Operations in that size range will no longer need plan approval before commencing operations.
“This will allow farmers to help supplement their agricultural business, especially on a monthly basis so they don’t have to wait for the crop to come in,” said Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd.
Maui County has gotten tough with illegal vacation rentals.
Aware of the growing number of illegal rentals intruding into residential and agricultural areas, the county Planning Department began aggressively enforcing zoning laws in early 2007 and shut down a number of operators.
Deputy Planning Director Ann Cua said the department gave illegal operators a reasonable time to close.
Later, in January 2009, in an attempt to bring vacation rentals into compliance, the Maui Council passed an ordinance allowing a limited number of bed-and-breakfasts to operate in various areas.
Since then some 33 rentals have received permits, including coastal residences in Paia and Kuau.
Former Kuau store manager Leona Nomura said she supports enforcement of zoning laws because neighborhood beaches have become crowded with visitors. She said people have been treating residences as vacation investments, then complaining when they are told to shut down.
“They’re trying to get laws to fit their needs,” she said. “They’re all about buying and selling.”
Cua said while there are still many illegal vacation rentals, the new ordinance has provided a path for those homeowners who want to legally operate their properties as B&Bs.