Negotiating Haleiwa's Future

Trying to maintain traditions while transforming the North Shore town

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Kamehameha Schools’ redevelopment of its Oahu North Shore
properties will likely include the demolition of this historic, but
rundown, building, which houses Aoki’s Shave Ice, and the
Iwa Gallery building next door, on the left.
Photo: David Croxford

The line of customers outside Matsumoto Grocery Store is 15 deep. Visitors and locals alike wait patiently to place their orders, huddling under the eaves of the ramshackle old building to avoid the noon sun. In the dusty gravel parking lot, a Hawaiian family nurses their shave ice in the shade of a banyan tree. Out front, a steady parade of tourists shuffles along Kamehameha Highway, inches from the road, slowing traffic to a crawl.

It’s a tableau repeated almost every day in sleepy Haleiwa town. For decades, these 1920s-era storefronts, like Matsumoto’s, Aoki’s Shave Ice, Iwa Gallery and the twin Yoshida buildings, have served as the cultural center of the North Shore. Legions of Japanese tourists, budget-conscious surfers, high- and low-brow bohemians, and “keep-country country” bourgeoisie have been drawn by the area’s nostalgic charm. But it’s also still the hub of a decidedly local community, a collection of longtime, extended families who cling jealously to Haleiwa’s rural character.

By early 2013, though, big changes could be under way for the area around Matsumoto’s. Kamehameha Schools, which owns most of downtown Haleiwa, has plans to redevelop the commercial district. The Haleiwa Commercial Redevelopment Project is expected to nearly double the area’s retail space. The project also calls for additional parking behind the shops, converting the old gravel lot into a park-like gathering space and adding much-needed walkways along busy Kamehameha Highway. These components of the project address longstanding needs in the community.

But KS also plans to demolish the historic buildings currently occupied by Aoki’s Shave Ice and Iwa Gallery (along with the unremarkable cinderblock building that houses the Assembly of God Church). Like Matsumoto’s, these old buildings may be run down, but they’re viewed by many as essential parts of the Haleiwa aesthetic. That’s why it was so surprising when the North Shore Neighborhood Board voted unanimously in October to approve KS’s redevelopment plans.

This is the story about the remarkable forces that shaped those plans, and the lengths Kamehameha Schools has gone to make those plans palatable to the development-averse North Shore community.

Reaching the Community

“It began with small groups,” says Kalani Fronda, KS’s senior land assets manager for the North Shore, and point man for its community engagement activities. “Purposely, we kind of sought out people that represent different parts of the community and we went out and talked to them. Prior to all of this, we sat down with kupuna and talked story with them about the area, about families, about them and about us, and what our thoughts were, our goals and visions.”

That, he says, was the key to KS’s community engagement strategy: Rather than approach the community with detailed, finished plans, they started with basic principles and broad objectives.

For many developers, of course, community engagement is often just a box they have to check as part of the zoning and entitlement process. In this case, though, most members of the business community say KS took the process seriously.

Antya Miller shows a vintage picture of Haleiwa. Miller,
executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce,
has long defended the historic character of Haleiwa and
hopes to preserve it.
Photo: David Croxford

“They asked key leaders in the community to host these small group meetings,” says Antya Miller, executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce. “For example, I hosted a group of about five or six people, and Kalani came and asked us questions and got feedback from us.” In addition, she points out, KS held several larger meetings that were widely publicized and attracted dozens of community members.

They also hired an independent researcher to conduct in-depth surveys of North Shore residents. “I’m not sure how much they spent financially,” Miller says, “but it was a very extensive, community-based process that generated a lot of community input.”

All that is moot, though, unless that input is actually taken seriously. Surprisingly, community members say their criticism and comments actually changed KS’s plans. That can probably be seen best in the design for the Haleiwa Commercial Redevelopment Project. The original plans featured a simple line of storefronts along Kamehameha Highway. The architect certainly tried to retain the North Shore feel, using the various motifs and idioms associated with plantation architecture. In fact, one of the main reasons KS has garnered the support of organizations like the North Shore Chamber of Commerce and the Neighborhood Board has been its ready acquiescence to the design standards of programs like the North Shore Sustainable Communities Plan and the Haleiwa Special District. Nevertheless, as Antya Miller puts it, the early plans for the Matsumoto development “seemed a little strip-mall-y.”

Loko Ea fishpond once helped feed the Haleiwa community,
says Kalani Fronda, land assets manager for Kamehameha
Schools. It is now being restored so it can be used as an
educational facility and to produce fish again for the community.
Photo: David Croxford

Later designs, though, reflect the suggestions of community members: The façade was broken up; the buildings became more freestanding; alleys were introduced between the buildings to provide better access to the parking in the rear. KS says they even consulted an expert in historic buildings to see if there was a way to save Aoki’s Shave Ice, or to reuse some of the material from the old building. All this, Fronda says, was possible because KS listened to the community with an open mind.

In fact, he says, some members of the community were irritated that KS didn’t put a more complete plan before them from the beginninng. Neil Hannahs, director of the Land Assets Division for KS, says that was an integral part of honest community engagement.

“We didn’t have a preconceived notion,” Hannahs says. “We walked in there and worked with the community and said, ‘Here are the assets. Here are the strengths and weaknesses and opportunities. Here’s our mission; this is what we’re trying to do. What’s important to you? What would you like to accomplish?’ ”

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