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Maui Council Measure Would Pause Hotel Building Permits

Casey Harlow / HPR

WAILUKU, Hawaii — A Maui County Council committee has passed a bill imposing a moratorium on building permits for visitor accommodations in west and south Maui — the county's biggest tourist districts.

The measure aims to address the problems of excessive tourism and climate change, said the legislation's introducer, committee Chair Kelly King. Development would be suspended until community plans are updated or in two years, whichever is sooner.

The Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee approved the bill by a 4-2 vote on Tuesday, The Maui News reported. The proposal now heads to the full council.

The legislation aims to lower carbon emissions and limit global warming by pausing visitor accommodation development and the related increase in tourism. The moratorium would prevent additional air, noise, light, land and water pollution until community plans can be updated, supporters say.

Council Chairwoman Alice Lee and Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, the two dissenting votes, questioned how it would address climate change.

“How do you quantify these items ... and distinguish those items as caused by visitors versus those items caused by residents whether new or old?” said Lee.

Sugimura asked how reducing visitor accommodations will result in not adding visitors.

“How do you stop visitors from coming?” she asked.

King said the pause will maintain a status quo while officials “look for solutions and receive information.” King said many moratoriums are adopted while waiting for data.

“The bottom line is when you find yourself in a hole, the best thing to do is stop digging,” she said. “We have all recognized that we have over-tourism, we have all recognized that we have a climate emergency, we’ve passed resolutions to both of those that we need solutions for."

The bill notes the Maui Island Plan calls for a daily visitor population that doesn't exceed one-third of the resident population, yet in 2019 the daily visitor census stood at about 70,000 while the resident population was under 150,000.

"This bill maintains status quo and stops us from adding additional visitor accommodations until we can come up with solutions or we can figure out how we are going to lower that figure, the ratio of tourists to residents,” King said.

Visitor accommodations cover hotels, resorts, timeshares, short-term rental homes, bed and breakfast homes and vacation rentals.

Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said she will soon introduce a similar moratorium bill covering the entire island.

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