Land use commission to consider Hawaii short-term rental law

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — The state Land Use Commission plans to consider whether Hawaii County can prohibit short-term vacation rentals on agricultural land.

The county and a group of 20 Kailua-Kona, Waimea and Captain Cook landowners have asked the commission for a declaratory ruling, West Hawaii Today reported Monday.

The commission took up the issue last week but postponed a hearing until Aug. 12.

Almost half of the land mass on Hawaii island, about 1,875 square miles (4,856 square kilometers), is classified agricultural.

State law requires houses built in the agricultural district to be farm dwellings and have a connection to agriculture.

The farm dwelling requirement took effect in 1976 and the county planning department allows nonconforming use permits for short-term vacation rentals only on lots established before that date.

“Farm dwellings can only be used in connection with agricultural use and not for residential use,” county Deputy Corporation Counsel John Mukai said.

Cal Chipchase, an attorney for the property owners, said the laws regulating the agricultural district do not regulate the length of rental agreements.

The ordinance allows residential or vacation purposes as long as the lease is for 31 days or more, Chipchase said.

County Planning Director Michael Yee told commission members last week that a farm dwelling is a permitted use on agricultural land, while a short-term vacation rental is not.

A short-term vacation rental is not a permitted use, ”just as we wouldn’t necessarily allow a junkyard on that land," Yee said.

Mary Alice Evans, director of the state Office of Planning, filed a statement earlier this month agreeing with the county’s legal interpretation, noting that the county's inability to enforce provisions of the law does not make the ordinance invalid or put violators out of the law's reach.