Developers may soon need to present project proposals to neighborhood boards in Honolulu before submitting a permit application for coastline development following frustration from North Shore residents and others seeking more public input in the process.

The City Council has advanced a bill that says developers may submit a special management use permit application to the Department of Planning and Permitting if the neighborhood board approves an applicant’s written notice or fails to respond within two months.

A special management area use permit is designed to manage uses and activities within coastline boundaries. It also regulates operations on land and water in compliance with the 1975 Shoreline Protection Act.

“This is hopefully a way to get the community and developer on the same page instead of having so much division and tension within the communities,” said Honolulu City Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi, who co-introduced Bill 27 with Councilwoman Esther Kiaaina.

Visitors enjoy swimming at Sharks Cove, Pupukea. North Shore.
North Shore residents have voiced their frustrations about business owners and developers proposing projects near Sharks Cove without public input. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Tsuneyoshi said any developer who skips this process would face no consequences because neighborhood boards operate as advisory groups. However, it’s an extra step for community engagement and input on local project proposals.

North Shore resident Joe Wilson, who is also a member of the Koolau Waialua Alliance, said community concerns have been long-standing, citing the encampment of food trucks across Kamehameha Highway from Sharks Cove, a Marine Life Conservation District that’s protected by the state.

A coalition of environmental groups and individuals filed a lawsuit in 2019 – which settled in February – against the developer of the property, Hanapohaku LLC, and DPP, complaining that the city issued a special management use permit without a review of the project and failed to enforce violations.

The Spot lunch wagon at the Pupukea location across of Sharks Cove.
The Spot lunch wagon at the Pupukea location across from Sharks Cove. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

“Too often communities and residents are left to fight these battles one-by-one, and on their own and when it’s often too late,” Wilson said. “The project should go before the communities first before it ever has a chance to submit a permit application, and then, residents should be able to count on agencies like the DPP to do the job that they are mandated and entrusted to do in the public interest.”

DPP Director Dean Uchida, who supports the bill, said that the department had a process asking developers to reach out to neighborhood groups for public input on projects, but efforts were halted “because it wasn’t a legal requirement” but rather a recommendation.

“We support the bill because that’s what we prefer to happen – that they (developers) go and talk to the community before they come to us with the application,” Uchida said.

Last year the State Legislature passed Act 16, which requires more coastline properties – affected by sea level rise, or impacted by waves, storm surges, high tide or shoreline erosion – to obtain a special management area use permit.

Uchida said the department is expecting to see an increase in permit applications.

Bill 27 is set for a final vote before the full City Council on Wednesday. If it’s approved, it will go to the mayor’s office. So far, all written testimonies are in support of the measure.

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