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Monday, December 03, 2007

Agency hears bed-and-breakfast debate

Agency hears bed-and-breakfast debate in Hawaii
By Laurie Au

The issue of bed-and-breakfast and transient vacation rentals in residential areas was as clear as yellow and white yesterday.

More than 200 residents swarmed a city Planning Commission hearing, giving heated testimony on proposals to change the city's handling of vacation housing.

Bed-and-breakfast supporters held yellow signs while residents upset with vacation housing held white signs.

The city administration has proposed bills that would require more information be disclosed by vacation-rental owners and allow more units in neighborhoods -- the first changes since 1989.

In a 3 1/2-hour hearing yesterday at the Blaisdell Center Pikake Room, the Planning Commission, an advisory body, heard from dozens of residents on the bills. There was not enough time to hear from all the attendees, and the Planning Commission will schedule another hearing before making a decision.

The City Council, however, has the right to decide which bills it will consider, regardless of the commission's opinion. The Council has proposed its own set of measures on the issue.

The white-sign carriers, mostly residents who live near vacation units, complained about traffic and loud noise from visitors in vacation rentals that turn their neighborhoods into commercial zones.

"I want to live with residents," said Stu Simmons, a Kailua resident for 15 years. "If I wanted to live with tourists, I would live in Waikiki. Vacation rentals deprive us of the neighborhood feeling."
He recalled one Halloween when there were few nearby homes to take his children trick-or-treating because they were vacation homes.

Their opponents, those carrying yellow signs, say they deserve a right to run bed-and-breakfast units and rentals, and they support new city regulations.

"This is our livelihood," said Susie Bryson, of Kailua, who owns several vacation rentals and makes customers sign a contract. "We want regulations so when there is a problem, that rental unit is shut down. Don't let a handful of bad rentals ruin it for all of us."

The bills introduced by the city Department of Planning and Permitting, as instructed by the City Council two years ago, propose that owners of vacation rentals list more information about themselves, including their license number and the address of their units, in all advertisements -- even those online -- to make enforcement easier.

"We have had problems with enforcement," said Henry Eng, planning director. "It would provide additional power. If (owners) list their address, we could do an inspection to find whether they have a permit and issue a violation if they don't. Right now we have to catch them in the act, which is very difficult."

But many owners said it could pose a safety problem since vacation rentals are unattended most of the day and would be targets for criminals. "I think it would expose that particular address to would-be criminals," said Don Maxwell, who owns a vacation rental on the Waianae Coast.

The city also is proposing additional permitting of B&Bs -- which has not been allowed since 1989, raising objections from residents afraid of additional growth.

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