Bed and breakfasts: It's decision time


POSTED: Sunday, December 13, 2009

FOR: After 20 years, it is time to pass B&B bill

By Rod Tam

The bed and breakfast bill under discussion by the Honolulu City Council on Dec. 16 continues to be a source of consternation for some people, particularly with respect to who is eligible to operate a B&B.

Let's be clear: To receive a B&B license, this bill would require that the person operating the B&B also own the property and physically reside on the zoning lot. The owner's name must appear on the real property tax exemption issued by the City & County of Honolulu for the property.

B&B operations would be restricted to only those who own the home, live in it as a full-time resident, and are accountable for its management.

Accountable is a key word. B&B owners would be legally responsible for guest behavior. This owner must also post and enforce written house rules, including those that pertain to parking on premises and obeying the noise-control rules that apply to all of us. If a guest causes a problem, the B&B homeowner is required to address it.

Historically, there have only been about three to five complaints against B&Bs per year. But even though complaints are few, we need effective enforcement procedures in place. This ordinance would put teeth into enforcement by requiring a permit number on all B&B advertising.

The city also has the power to levy fines of $1,000 to $5,000 per day for violations. These fines continue to accrue until violations are corrected. If an owner accumulates fines up to $86,000 and does not pay, the fines are attached to his property tax bill. If the owner does not pay the property tax bill, including the fine amount, his house can be foreclosed on. A penalty doesn't get much more severe.

The B&B bill seeks an end to a contentious issue that reaches back to 1989 when the City Council passed a bill allowing existing B&Bs to be permitted, but closing the doors to new operators. Almost all of the original B&B homes have disappeared since then, and the city cannot issue any new permits unless a new ordinance allows them. Sadly, the question of whether to allow B&Bs has led to tension between neighbors in some communities.

Neighborhood boards and the Planning Commission have done their jobs, identifying and analyzing the issues, and sending them to the City Council for resolution. We have listened to hours of testimony, read countless letters, considered all comments. While some oppose new B&Bs, numerous surveys—including two commissioned by the City Council—show the majority of residents support permitting them.

Today—after 20 years of discussions—we're finally at a point where we have a workable bill. If we do not pass this bill, it will die and all of the years of work on this issue will be for nothing. We will return to status quo and no one wins.

No legislation is perfect, but Council members are attempting to make it as fair and effective as possible. The Council is taking into consideration how the bill will help residents by providing additional income that will help them afford their homes, which in many cases have been in their families for generations.

At the same time, the Council wants to protect the character of our neighborhoods by imposing a cap that would limit the number of B&Bs on Oahu.

B&Bs are a part of the fabric of our community. Many B&B owners have lived in Hawaii all their lives. They are asking for a solution with permits and regulations that allow them to operate legally without fear of neighbor retribution. We owe it to them and all our residents to conclude this issue in a way that is fair to both sides.

City Councilman Rod Tam represents District 6 (Liliha, Downtown, Nuuanu, Alewa).


AGAINST: Protect residential zoning: Say 'no' to Bill 7

By Keep it Kailua

Five years ago, the City Council proposed to legalize lodging businesses (B&Bs) in residence zones. To this day, the public purpose behind this action remains obscure. What is the public health, public safety or public welfare need for posing a massive invasion of hotel-like businesses in residential areas?

Lacking such a purpose, the validity of the action is questionable. The latest proposal (Bill 7) from Councilmember Ikaika Anderson and written on behalf of the illegal operators lacks constitutional validity because it tries to enact a zoning regulation which is not in accord with Honolulu's General and Development Plans, and removes the appropriate due process required for rezoning land uses. B&B hotels would drastically change the character of residential neighborhoods (from permanent residency to tourist destination), planting the seeds of social disruption, neighborhood destabilization and nuisance. Residential quality of life would suffer.

These circumstances caused the city Planning Commission to “;unanimously”; reject the Council proposal. The commission chair said: “;Legalizing bed and breakfast is spot zoning without the legal process involved and it's difficult for me to justify the legalization of mini-resort use in a residential area. ... I don't see much evidence of a community need or benefit. I think this is a really slippery slope ... There is a lot of money to be made in bed and breakfast and for us to think that allowing more of them will not result in something uncontrollable could be a serious problem.”;

Anderson's claim that the bill is the only way for long-time residents to keep their homes is hollow. If this was the bill's intent, a method favoring only long-time resident permits would be included. No such provision exists. Backers of the bill are primarily illegal operators who utilize multimillion dollar homes in beachside or other affluent areas. They need no governmental subsistence help. Anderson conveniently leaves out the fact that residential zoning already allows property owners to legally rent to longterm tenants if they wish to augment their income.

Anderson also claims that his bill contains “;stringent”; enforceable conditions. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The bill was written by and for the owners of illegal B&Bs and vacation rentals. They have placed ridiculous requirements for neighbors to file complaints and have numerous loopholes to allow violators to skirt the law. One of the more comical conditions requires police to witness a violation prior to allowing DPP inspectors to accept complaints. Is this really the best use of our police?

Bill 7 would overnight produce 4,000 new visitor rooms, an alarming 16 percent increase in our existing hotel plant. Pushing mini-hotels into residential areas will produce resident resentment that could mar tourism sustainability. Sprawling the tourist industry throughout residential communities also contradicts Honolulu's General Plan, which designates specific areas for tourism development. A plan which citizens have relied on to guide their own decisions about where to live and raise their families.

The residential neighborhoods of Kailua could have as many as 1,300 B&B hotel rooms. That would be the equivalent of allowing the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Kahala resort and Turtle Bay resort in. What will be the impact to Kailua residents' quality of life and the character of the community?

Bill 7 would also squeeze the rental housing market for local people and raise its cost (owners would tend to rent to tourists for more money). Permanent renters would face higher rents to buck this trend.

The solution to lawlessness is effective enforcement, not the rewarding of law breakers. The Council should be giving more powers to DPP to ensure effective law enforcement. Passing Bill 7 will solidify the perception that one does not have to be a law-abiding citizen because the Council can be count-ed upon to grant amnesty to scofflaws.

Keep it Kailua is a community group of residents that aims to retain Kailua's “;residential”; character and lifestyle.