Big Island

Hawaii County Planning Updates – STVRs and the EPIC System

Some of my most-read blog posts are those having to do with matters of interest to our real estate buyers and sellers that happen to fall under the Hawaii County Planning Department — short term vacation rental “STVR” regulation; the no-longer-so-new online permitting system “EPIC”; and zoning questions, to name a few.

Recently the West Hawaiʻi Association of Realtors invited Hawaii County Planning Director Zendo Kern to speak at the annual general membership meeting. Here are some notes from that meeting, as well as subsequent announcements. Overall, Director Kernʻs philosophy is that the Planning Department should be service oriented to consumers (taxpayers), efficient in processing, and up to date with land use planning as a field of practice. That is good news for owners needing a permit or approval, as well as for the future of solutions to the affordable housing crisis.

Here are some of the actions to expect.

Hawaii County Planning Director Zendo Kern

Hawaii County Short Term Vacation Rental Regulations – Whatʻs Next

Recall that Hawaii County short term vacation rental (STVR) regulations and ordinance are fairly new, having been implemented in 2019. What the new regulations did was require all unhosted vacation rentals to register. Existing vacation rentals with non-conforming zoning had an opportunity to be “grandfathered in.” In areas where the ordinance allows for STVRs (primarily resort communities), new rentals must now register with the County.

Designed primarily to protect quality of life in residential neighborhoods, experience with registration over the past three years has shown that there is a need to improve enforcement provisions. For example: in some neighborhoods where owners can charge high daily rental rates, the fines in the regulations for illegal rentals are not high enough to deter violators. With the maximum penalty at $500/day, some owners are just building it in to rental rates.

Volcano Village STVR

Clients of mine purchased a Volcano Village property that has a rare STVR permit. No more can currently be issued there.

Also in the works will be proposals related to regulation of hosted rentals, and creation of “districts” where it makes sense to concentrate STVRs but the actual zoning would not currently allow. Alii Drive? Puako? The predictions in my post from three years ago seem pretty solid.

Facilitating Review of Building Permits and Other Applications

Hawaii County Building Permit process

Planning Director Kern inherited a backlog of applications for building permits and other approvals, and challenged his staff to figure out how to get rid of the backlog and be more responsive to the public going forward. Recall that Hawaiʻi County implemented a new electronic building permit system last year. Between the backlog going into the new systemʻs start date, the normal glitches, an above-normal level of applications due to the hot real estate market, and vacancies in plan reviewers, initially the new system got blamed for crazy long delays.

My own remodeling permit got approved in a year and one week from submission. I applied September 21, 2021. The Building Department started processing it January 3, 2022 and sent to Planning Department for their review.  Planningʻs land use review and approval was completed one day later! So I believed Kern when he said the Planning department is completely caught up on backlog for processing new EPIC system requests.

Updating Hawaiʻi County Code, General Plan and Community Development Plans (CDP)

Thanks to all my blog posts, I probably get at least as many calls with questions about zoning as I do about listings or the real estate market. There are some big changes coming that deserve their own separate post, given the complexity of County zoning and State land use designations in Hawaiʻi. Stay tuned for the next segment of this update!

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