Virtually every development plan on Oahu encounters intense push and pull: the monetizing interests often equate highest and best use with ever-more buildup, while preservationist types staunchly resist any change for fear of opening that build-up door. So it's refreshing to watch the revitalization of Haleiwa unfold, guided by a respectful blueprint that keeps the town's charming visage and unique sense of place while allowing it to do better business.
At the heart of the redo is Kamehameha Schools' Haleiwa Store Lots, anchored by the iconic Matsumoto Shave Ice and 11 specialty shops so far. Although just 60 percent done, the $16 million town rehabilitation, which includes two recreated historic buildings, more walkways and parking, is already getting positive reviews from visitors, residents and business owners alike — good news for the quaint town that sees about 2.5 million tourists annually.
Retaining any spirit of mom-and-pop community, though, should never be taken for granted. Indeed, this revitalization plan is coming to fruition only after more than a decade of strategic planning that started with small meetings between Kamehameha Schools and clusters of area leaders. Engagement and stakeholder buy-in were key and, folks say, their criticism and input did periodically convince Kamehameha Schools to incorporate changes. What might have been wholly contentious instead was decidedly collaborative, and today's positive results are for the common good.
Community dialogue was key, certainly. But underpinning the entire process, most importantly, was the Haleiwa Special District Design Guidelines, which impose strict policies for rebuilding in the area. Haleiwa's designation as a Special District on May 1, 1984, created as a counter to overdevelopment, aims to perpetuate and enhance the rural character and scale of the historic plantation town. And it's worked, setting crucial design parameters for Kamehameha Schools' revamp, such as limiting building heights to two stories and using design elements that reflect characteristics of the early 1900s-period architecture identified in the Haleiwa Special District.
"The area offers one of Hawaii's unique rural commercial settings, dating back to the plantation era in the late 1800s," Kamehameha Schools noted in the project's environmental impact statement.
Kamehameha owns most of the land in downtown Haleiwa and its Commercial Redevelopment Project there is just part of a broader plan for its 26,000 acres on the North Shore, which includes agricultural preservation between Haleiwa and Waimea. In Haleiwa, Kamehameha Schools kept a steady eye on its mission to increase lease-rent profits: By nearly doubling retail space, net profits from the improvements are expected to add $1 million yearly to its educational mission. The win-win situation brings needed improvements to the town's buildings and streets while yielding monetary benefits for its Hawaiian students.
The balance sought for this unique area is evident in the schools' general policies for Haleiwa's redevelopment, which state in part: "Support the continued viability of locally owned small businesses, while prohibiting large commercial ‘big box' retailers that are contradictory to the region's rural character."
Some isle enclaves that once were fairly relaxed and quaint — Kailua comes to mind — are maturing beyond recognition. It's not difficult to see how residential population growth and increasing tourism can drive pressure for services and conveniences offered by bigger-box retailers.
So it's instructive to soak in Haleiwa's easy charm, fully realizing that such mindful revitalization does not come easy, or often. It takes years of commitment: community engagement as well as a willing, circumspect developer. Haleiwa also underscores the truism that visionary zoning and design rules do matter, and that respectful adherence to them honors Hawaii's history even as developments reposition for the future.