Some residents hope that the city’s plans for a new emergency services center on Oahuʻs North Shore can align with their goal to stop a commercial development there.

What should go in the lot across the highway from a famous North Shore snorkeling location?

The answer depends on who you ask.

Currently, the lot next to Foodland Pupukea contains a collection of food trucks selling tacos, coffee, smoothies and shrimp, among other goods. 

The owner of the land is planning to develop this further. Renderings on a website show plans for permanent one- to two-story buildings that would host a restaurant, surf shop, credit union, market, retail shop, and an urgent care center. 

An area mauka of Sharks Cove with food trucks and water sports for tourist is photographed Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Haleiwa. The businesses here will struggle with proposed development taking over the area. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
An area mauka of Sharkʻs Cove with food trucks and water sports rentals is technically zoned for businesses that support the local community. Some residents say that it’s geared too much toward attracting tourist money. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

The plan has its opponents. They point to ethical questions about the Honolulu City Council granting an initial permit in 2018, and predict that the development will draw in more tourists rather than serving locals, negatively impacting the nearby protected environment.

The opposition is nothing new

What is new – and what has some level of buy-in from city officials – is the idea for an emergency services center to go there instead.

“It was this perfect confluence of EMS and Ocean Safety saying, ‘We need new facilities up here, you are not being well served,’ and us saying, ‘This is what we need,’” said Denise Antolini, president of the volunteer group Malama Pupukea-Waimea. “So those ideas came together at the right time.” 

While an emergency services center at this location is far from certain, city officials are considering it.

A Needed Emergency Services Center

Sharkʻs Cove is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, one of three marine life conservation districts on Oahu along with Hanauma Bay and Waikiki. 

Nearby residents live in an area that’s renowned for its natural offerings but lacking in city services. 

Tourists and snorkelers enjoy Sharks Cove Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, in Haleiwa. A new housing development at the already crowded beach and snorkeling spot on the North Shore would create more crowds if the homes are used as short-term rentals for tourists. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Sharkʻs Cove is a popular scenic stop along the North Shore’s seaside Kamehameha Highway.(Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

The closest ambulance in one direction is in Kahuku, said Jim Ireland, director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department. The closest in the other direction is in Waialua. 

Before being lobbied to consider this lot next to Foodland Pupukea, he and his team had already been seriously thinking about where along the North Shore to place a hypothetical emergency services center.

“That may include this district substation for the lifeguards. An EMS unit. And it could involve a small area for the police department, maybe DLNR. We’re not really sure yet how it could look, but this is definitely something that we want to pursue,” said Ireland. They even presented to community groups in March and in September to get input.

Ireland’s team is currently considering three locations in the area, including two that are already owned by the city, he said. One would be on the Kahuku side of Sunset Beach Elementary School.

“But (some residents) did come to us with this plot that they think would be a better fit for their community. And we’re looking at it,” he said. 

That entails probing a few considerations for each site. For example: “Are there drainage issues? Are there cultural sites within there that we’d have to be careful of? Are there deed restrictions?” Ireland said.

Another consideration: using the block across from Sharkʻs Cove would require Andrew Yani, the lot’s owner, to sell his property to the city – and that’s far from guaranteed.

The Honolulu Fire Department Station 11 Sunset Beach at Sharks Cove is photographed Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, in Haleiwa. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Right now, this Honolulu Fire Department station as well as a lifeguard substation toward Kahuku are the main city facilities geared toward public safety along this stretch of the island. A full emergency services center of ambulances and police in the same area would be an asset for the North Shore, residents and officials say. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Reached by phone, Yani declined to comment. But he emailed a statement and fact sheet detailing why he believes the development project has community approval. 

“The plan for the Rural Community Commercial Center has been a labor of love and a passion project for a long-time North Shore family. They have followed all permitting processes fully as well as followed the 2011 North Shore Sustainable Communities Plan precisely. This fact sheet is an attempt to set the record straight after legal threats and bullying by a vocal minority,” he wrote. 

Inertia favors Yaniʻs development. At the Honolulu City Council’s monthly meeting on Nov. 1, council members voted 8-1 to grant Hanapohaku LLC a two-year extension for getting a development permit. This was the third time an extension was granted since the City Council approved an initial permit in 2018. 

Over 100 pieces of testimony had flowed in from both sides of the issue. 

In the end, only council member Matt Weyer, who represents the North Shore, voted against granting an extension.

“I’ve been talking with the departments about ways the city could possibly purchase a portion or all of those three parcels and provide an ocean safety hub,” he said afterwards by phone.

During the hearing, council member Andria Tupola and chair Tommy Waters also expressed tentative support for the idea. 

Antolini is hoping that this push can convince Yani to consider selling to the city. It’s part of her group’s relatively new strategy for opposing the commercial development.

“We felt it was our responsibility – our kuleana, this is our community – to come up with an alternative that we do want. To be positive and proactive,” said Antolini.

Tourists and snorkelers enjoy Sharks Cove Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, in Haleiwa. A new housing development at the already crowded beach and snorkeling spot on the North Shore would create more crowds if the homes are used as short-term rentals for tourists. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Sharkʻs Cove is part of the Pupukea Marine Life Conservation District, a state-level designation that says marine life and natural features cannot be removed. Along with Hanauma Bay and a section of Waikiki, it is one of three on Oahu. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

After about a year and a half of conversations about this, she said, they decided on the emergency services center, which would complement an already-existing city fire station across the street. They even hired a planner to draw up some renderings.

This would still be a tradeoff in some ways, given the fragile marine ecosystem right on the door step. 

Walking along the makai side of the road, Antolini pointed to an area where she said runoff from the development’s earth leveling for earlier upgrades had spewed into the ocean. 

Wouldn’t construction of an emergency services center also cause that same runoff?

“That’s one of the reasons we’ve proposed a much smaller footprint,” she said, as well as features like swales to help collect and filter runoff water. These are included in the renderings the group commissioned. 

“Any development on that site is a concern, but we would make sure the first responders center has gold-plated environmental protection,” Antolini said. 

Who Do The Businesses There Benefit?

The current businesses do have more pizzazz than one would expect from an area zoned for everyday residential needs. 

Next to a surf rental shop, signs point in all directions to destinations near and far: Australia is 5,598 miles away southwest; France is 7,582 miles away northeast.

Features like this, say opponents, support their argument that this is a spot geared toward tourists, which goes against the zoning requirements that businesses there should primarily serve the local community.

On a recent Monday, Civil Beat approached a few employees at the site’s businesses and asked about the proportion of local residents to tourists. Most employees declined to be quoted, and estimates varied wildly. 

But the general sense was that although tourists make up the bulk of overall customers, plenty of local regulars also patronize the area. 

Kaleb Christensen, general manager at the Sharkʻs Cove location of Seven Brothers, said that the majority of their revenue is from tourists. But he added that plenty of regulars also buy food from his establishment, and that many workers at this lot are local residents who rely on the income. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2023)

“We obviously do get a lot of tourists, and that’s probably our major source of money that comes in,” said Kaleb Christensen, general manager of the Seven Brothers food truck at Sharkʻs Cove.

“But I think that – especially at night – the locals do come in,” he said.

Minutes before, Christensen’s team served a man in a Honolulu Fire Department shirt, presumably somebody who works at the station across the street and walked over for lunch. 

Christensen graduated from Kahuku High School and has been working at Seven Brothers for about seven years, he said. He thinks that in the long-term, further development would be good for the business since it might bring more customers in. But he also said construction would bring a difficult interim period that would disrupt normal business operations.

“My livelihood is based on my income here,” he said.

He understands nearby residents’ issues with the noise, which would only increase during construction, but added that a lot of other employees at the site also rely on it for their livelihoods.

“There’s always pros and cons to each side,” he said. “So I mean, it depends on who you talk to.”

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author