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Landowner facing hefty fines

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A construction site belonging to Scott Watson is seen Friday in Pepeekeo.</p>


Tribune-Herald staff writer

A Big Island landowner has racked up a sizable tab with the Hawaii County Planning Department.

Scott Watson of Ninole has been fined $31,000 since late November for violations ranging from building within a shoreline setback at Pepeekeo Point to an unauthorized helicopter landing pad on top of his home.

Watson is disputing the majority of violations, and has filed an appeal of eight citations related to construction of a multi-million-dollar home in Pepeekeo.

A site inspection by planning staff on Nov. 29 found that he had started breaking ground within a shoreline setback. Other violations included not having a silt barrier in place, changing the location of a pool onto a former sugar mill building foundation, and not allowing enough open space.

The county issued a $20,000 fine and a stop-work order.

Watson believes the Planning Department incorrectly calculated the shoreline. He filed an appeal Dec. 31.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “I know the rules. I’ve been doing this a long time along the coast.”

The county measured the shoreline from the top of a bluff, where staff say his property ends. Watson said his measurements were based on the shoreline below.

His attorney, Steven Strauss, said he has met with planning staff on the issue and believes a resolution will be reached before it goes to the county Board of Appeals.

It’s not the first time he has been fined for work on the property.

The Planning Department fined him $8,000 last year for clearing the bluff without a permit. He paid the fine Nov. 16, about two weeks before the site visit.

Watson said he was clearing the area to identify old sugar mill foundations as part of an archaeological survey and didn’t think he needed a permit.

Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said the recent fines would have been less if it was a first-time offense.

Watson had also been previously fined $1,000 in 2002 for grading and grubbing without a permit and $1,500 in 2008 for construction activity within a shoreline setback.

“The first time you have a violation … we assume sometimes people don’t know any better,” she said.

“But when you have subsequent violations, then we start thinking, wait a minute, you already know better then to do something without coming and checking with us.”

Following the site inspection, planning staff also discovered a video on YouTube showing a helicopter landing on top of Watson’s home in Ninole.

The helicopter appears to touchdown on a designated landing area.

Staff found he didn’t have a permit for the landing area and issued a $10,500 fine.

Watson acknowledged building the home with a landing pad. He said he didn’t seek the permit because he intended to keep it idle.

That is, except for shooting of the video, which was the only time it had been used, Watson said.

“It is designed to accommodate (a helicopter) if I wish to get a permit,” he said. “I don’t have a helicopter so I didn’t take it that far.”

Strauss said he plans to seek a reduction of the fine.

Watson was also fined $500 last month for an unpermitted kitchen at another home.

He disputed that fine, claiming it qualifies as a wet bar.

The home in Pepeekeo will be about 7,100 square feet and have two stories.

The county has authorized public access to a landing below the house to be closed temporarily during construction.

Watson said he has limited access between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. but is allowing unrestricted use while the stop-work order is in effect.

The property is co-owned by Hilo Project LLC.

Email Tom Callis at


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