Pflueger admits violating county zoning ordinances

North Shore landowner fined. Retired Honolulu auto dealer and North Shore landowner James Pflueger pleaded no contest yesterday to three criminal counts of violating the county’s zoning ordinance for unpermitted work on his properties in Kilauea in 2001 and 2002.

He made his plea during a hearing in the Hanalei Courthouse before District Court Judge Trudy Senda.

Senda fined Pflueger $3,075 and ordered him to serve 450 hours of community service, two hundred more hours than was recommended by the Kaua’i County Prosecutor’s Office.

Because Pflueger lives primarily on O’ahu, Senda allowed him to carry out his community service obligation on O’ahu.

Senda suspended a 30-day maximum jail time on the petty misdemeanor charges, but said she wanted the specter of jail time to encourage Pflueger to secure government permits before developing his properties in the future.

In a plea bargain agreement reached between defense attorney Phil Lowenthal from Maui and the Kaua’i County Prosecutor’s Office, at least eight other charges for violating the county’s grading ordinance were dismissed and can’t be brought up against Pflueger.

The charges that were dropped named Pflueger and other entities together. The charges that were kept alive named only Pflueger.

Unpermitted work and torrential rainfall created mudslides that covered parts of the home of Amy Marvin and her family in Pila’a Bay in November 2001 and sent sediment onto parts of the reef at Pila’a Bay, critically damaging the eco-system.

Of the sentence, Marvin said, “I think it is a real beginning (because lawsuits are pending and federal government investigations are being conducted). No fine is big enough because of damage to the reef.”

But Gordon Rosa, one of Pflueger’s key men on Kaua’i, said he thought the sentencing was fair.

In spite of his affluence, Pflueger was, with the way the sentencing went, “treated like any other person who graded without a permit,” Rosa said.

Rosa also said “a violation is a violation and it is time to move onto other things in life.”

A friend and supporter of Pflueger, Tom Lunn, accompanied by his wife, Haunani, defended Pflueger. “Jimmy is a good guy. He is a good steward of the land,” Lunn said.

Senda said Pflueger was to pay the fines by April 9 and to complete his community service by Jan 11, 2004.

In connection with one of the charges, county prosecutor Michael Soong said Pflueger was responsible for the cutting of a roadway to Pila’a Bay, excessive grading and a vertical cut that exceeded a five-foot height limit.

The unpermitted work, coupled with torrential rain, created runoff that covered areas around the home of Amy Marvin.

The runoff also sent sediment that covered parts of the reef, triggering investigations by the federal, state and county governments and generating lawsuits from environmental groups and from the Marvins.

In connection with the second charge, Soong said Pflueger also was responsible for having fill material put on top of a plateau and for grading and filling a valley in Pila’a.

For the final charge, Pflueger was responsible for unpermitted grading by a reservoir located mauka of Kuhio Highway in Kilauea.

Soong said the “destruction was well-documented” and that damage to the reef was “catastrophic.”

Soong said he had heard that it cost Pflueger about $7 million for a remediation plan.

In sentencing Pflueger, Senda said the amount he spent for the repair work was an “obscene amount” and that the expenditure could have been avoided had he gotten county approval for his work.

Soong said Pflueger has had a history of “doing things without permits,” and that Pflueger’s mitigation plan would not have come about had it not been for lawsuits and pressure from government agencies.

Soong indicated the county’s penalties – $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 30 days, or both for each offense – were not powerful enough incentives to prevent violations of the county’s grading ordinance.

In response to the unpermitted work done by Pflueger and other property owners on Kaua’i, the county is revising its grading ordinance to try to discourage violations.

In defense of his client, Lowenthal said Pflueger has taken responsibility for what he has done and that he has done “everything possible that can be done to remediate.”

Lowenthal also said records show that Pflueger has no past criminal history and that charges facing him were petty misdemeanors.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and


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