Bad road shoulders. No sidewalks. Puddles.
These aren’t the characteristics for which Haleiwa wants to be known. But such realities have long impinged on the historic commercial district dotted with plantation-era buildings filled with surf shops, art galleries and restaurants at the doorstep of Oahu’s famed North Shore surfing mecca.
Previous efforts to improve the town’s look and feel while maintaining its rural character have been made over the last two decades but were met with failure. Recently a group of community leaders has mounted a new charge.
"Now is the time to get it up to a safe standard for the community," said Gil Riviere, transportation committee chairman of the North Shore Neighborhood Board. "It’s way overdue."
The latest improvement initiative has been in the works relatively quietly since last year under leadership from Riviere; Antya Miller, executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce; City Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz; and Kathleen Pahinui, vice chairwoman of the area neighborhood board.
Project organizers recently secured $2 million from the City Council for planning and design work.
Improvements, as envisaged by the group, would include uniform paved walkways without curbs or gutters on both sides of Kamehameha Highway running through town, landscaping, historic-looking street lamps and underground utilities.
The targeted area stretches nearly one mile from the Opaeula Stream bridge makai of the Weed Circle roundabout up to the Anahulu River bridge near the ocean.
The cost is estimated at $21 million, and organizers hope work can begin in about 18 months if there is enough support from Haleiwa land and business owners.
However, it could still be challenging to execute the plan because of its financing structure, whereby the owners of land fronting the improvement area would share the cost with the city and Hawaiian Electric Co.
About 30 landowners will be asked to chip in for the upgrades. Most landowners are small businesses that project organizers say would share a relatively small amount of the cost. There are some residential and church property owners, though they might be exempted from pitching in.
Kamehameha Schools owns about half the land fronting the improvement district and would be responsible for contributing about $4 million toward the project.
Kalani Fronda, senior land asset manager for Kamehameha Schools, said the planned upgrades will help the trust move ahead with its own North Shore master plan, which includes creating space for more businesses and residences in Haleiwa.
"It is imperative that we, as a major landowner in the region, support a need that has been expressed for many years by residents and visitors," Fronda said.
While the buy-in from Kamehameha Schools is key, not all landowners agree with the scope of the plan being put forth by community leaders.
John Moore, owner of the Strong Current surf shop and Grass Skirt Grill, has been involved in past efforts to improve the pedestrian experience for visitors and residents in Haleiwa for more than a decade.
"It’s common sense," he said. "If you’ve been up here on a rainy day, it’s Third World."
However, Moore believes that burying utility lines is too costly and ambitious, and would eliminate an element that some in the community regard as part of the town’s country atmosphere.
Based on a 2007 study prepared for the city, burying utility lines through Haleiwa’s buisness area would cost $7 million. That cost under improvement district sharing would be divided in thirds among landowners, the city and HECO. The $14 million balance for other improvements would be split just between landowners and the city.
Project organizers said it may be possible to obtain private or federal grant money to help reduce landowner costs. They estimate that a landowner with 100 lineal feet fronting the highway would be asked to pay $34,000 if no grant financing is obtained.
Because project financing would use bonds, landowners would pay for the project with annual assessments spread over 20 years, which would break down a $34,000 bill into roughly $1,200 a year including interest.
Pahinui said businesses should prosper as pedestrian traffic is made safer and more pleasant. If more people are encouraged to walk the area, business should increase.
"Our goal is to have everybody prosper," she said, adding that the town will in no way be urbanized.
Project proponents said the poor shape of Haleiwa’s thoroughfare reflects badly on Hawaii as a tourism destination, especially considering that roughly half of all visitors to Oahu visit the North Shore.
"It’s real critical that we show (visitors) a good experience," Pahinui said. "Walking through Haleiwa right now is not a good experience. It’s deteriorated so much in the last few years."
Haleiwa was established in the late 1800s as an outcrop of the plantation community centered around neighboring Waialua.
The city afforded Haleiwa town strong historical protections in 1984 by designating the area a special district.
In 1991 the area chamber of commerce, then known as the Haleiwa Main Street Association, published a town improvement master plan that included sidewalks as a main component.
But over the years, funding and design issues hampered implementation of the plan.
When the Haleiwa Bypass Road opened in 1995, there was concern that visitor traffic in town would decline, and an effort was mounted again to make the town a more attractive stop.
Kamehameha Schools committed in 1997 to enhance landscaping and install cobbled sidewalks fronting its property, and the trust encouraged the business association to follow suit.
The association worked with the city to develop and execute an improvement plan, but a contract to start construction was canceled in 2005 after some businesses objected to a city provision for parallel street parking that would have reduced parking for some businesses with head-in stalls.
Later attempts to obtain funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority and state Legislature were made to rework the plan but were not successful.
Earlier this year the City Council adopted a resolution to proceed with setting up the improvement district, and included $2 million in this year’s budget to pay for design and planning work.
Under the improvement district process, the city Department of Design and Construction will be asked to prepare a report with designs and estimated costs.
Councilman Dela Cruz, who represents the area, said much of that work was previously done in a December 2007 master plan for Kamehameha Highway improvements between Weed Circle and Haleiwa Beach Park.
"It’s not like we have to reinvent the wheel," said D.G. "Andy" Anderson, a North Shore resident and former local politician who is helping with the improvement district effort. "A lot of the work has been done."
Anderson said a contractor informally updated costs from the 2007 report to give estimates of what the work would cost today.
The next step will involve the City Council formally establishing the improvement district based on the new report. This will involve public hearings held by the Council. All affected landowners and property lessees must be notified of the hearings, and the city must make a presentation to the area neighborhood board prior to the hearings.
If approved, the city would request bids for construction and proceed with the project.
Miller said no one testified against the resolution to begin setting up the improvement district, and that the plan has unanimous support from the area’s chamber of commerce board.
"We mustn’t miss this chance," Riviere said. "Now is the time."