(CNN) — Every year, thousands of Hawaiian tourists choose the small residential town of Kailua over the hustle and bustle of larger resort towns.
Even President Barack Obama and his family have made it their yearly holiday vacation destination.
Located off the southeast coast of Hawaii, Kailua boasts beachfront properties overlooking pristine white sand beaches. But residents are now asking Hawaii’s Tourism Authority to stop promoting the town as an overnight destination.
“We have a city ordinance that does not permit these short terms tourist rentals in residential areas,” said Kailua Neighborhood Board Chairman, Chuck Prentiss. He cited a Honolulu County land use ordinance approved in the 1980s.
“We are not against having tourists in the community. It is a nice community for them to come and see. It has a nice beach and everything, but it is not proper to have a residential community used for overnight accommodations,” Prentiss said.
A move to slow tourism
In September, the Kailua Neighborhood Board approved a motion asking the Tourism Authority “to respect the zoning and quality of life of our residential neighborhoods, and immediately stop promoting Kailua as a tourist destination and an alternative to Waikiki.”
Waikiki, on the south of the island, is home to several high-end hotels and a lively night scene.
The board’s resolution was a response to a page on the Tourism Authority’s website promoting Kailua’s short-term rentals for families and large groups.
“We want them to take it off their website,” Prentiss said.
The problem, he said, is that most of these short terms rentals are illegal.
In October, Hawaii’s Tourism Authority’s President Mike McCartney sent a letter to Prentiss in response to the board’s request.
“Ultimately, the decision of what is appropriate land use policy must be determined by the county itself. However, the HTA does not encourage or promote illegal vacation rentals that are not properly licensed,” the letter read.
Prentiss did not consider that a “satisfactory response.”
McCartney estimates Kailua visitors have an economic impact of $103 million a year in revenue for the town.
“It’s about our collective existence and how we live and work in our island home to find the right balance,” McCartney said.
Prentiss response: “they seem to be fixed on increasing tourism at any cost.”
Tourism is her livelihood
But for Bonnie Madigan, the cost would be her livelihood.
She is the owner of Under a Hula Moon, a boutique in Kailua that sells furnishings with beach appeal. She said 80% of her business comes from tourists.
“Take the tourist awayand I’m gone,” said Madigan, who is also a resident of Kailua. “They don’t understand the reality.”
“I’m pro-tourism and I’m pro change. Change is part of life,” she said. “We are a beautiful place, it is a jewel. Why should we hoard it for ourselves, I think that is wrong.”
The battle goes on
A quick web search for short terms rental properties in Kailua returned over 250 properties. Of these, Prentiss said, only 65 are legal — properties that were grandfathered after the zoning ordinance was passed.
“We have a general plan for the island that designates the tourist sites and residential areas,” Prentiss said. “We have people trying to live their lives in residential communities without being thrust into tourist areas.”
Prentiss said the lack of oversight has resulted in other problems for Kailua residents such as increased property taxes, a rise in criminal activity and noise complaints.
“Tourists are on a different schedule than residents, it is incompatible with residential living,” Prentiss said.
The Kailua Neighborhood Board has brought up the issue of illegal short term rentals to the city and the county of Honolulu, but due to the lack of staffing, it has been difficult to enforce the ordinance, Prentiss said.
The board plans to re-take the issue in its next meeting in January.
By Mayra Cuevas