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County goes to court on nuisance violations

Archuleta County is, for the first time, taking legal steps to enforce its nuisance ordinance in two cases where the owners of properties failed to correct conditions leading to the violations — following previous warnings.

The nuisance ordinance was approved in late 2008, became effective Jan. 1, 2009, and was amended July 22, 2009.

A complaint filed on June 30 in District Court on behalf of the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners, alleges that the owners of one property, 314 Hurt Drive, located in Aspen Springs Unit 4, are in violation of multiple sections of the county’s nuisance ordinance.

According to the complaint, “Defendant’s violations of The Archuleta County Nuisance Ordinance include but are not limited to the existence of a partially reconstructed mobile home, a recreational vehicle, an old mobile home, vehicles, construction materials, rubbish and garbage.”

A copy of a previous letter of warning filed as an exhibit to the complaint alleges that five sections of the nuisance ordinance were violated. The letter also included an April 28, 2010, deadline for the landowner to submit a mitigation plan.

Acting Archuleta County Building Official John Sjoblom noted that the original complaint on the property was called in early in 2009, after which the property owner repeatedly missed contact and mitigation deadlines. Sjoblom said seven certified letters had been sent to the property owner.

The owners of a second property, located at 10458 West U.S. 160, also in Aspen Springs Unit 4, face a similar complaint, filed July 9.

According to the complaint, the violations include “... the existence of a partially reconstructed mobile home, a recreational vehicle, an old mobile home, vehicles, construction materials, rubbish and garbage.”

The complaint included a copy of a letter sent to the homeowner, with the letter demanding a mitigation plan by April 5, 2010.

Sjoblom said the complaint originated in early 2009 and said multiple certified letters to the property owner had gone unanswered.

According to both complaints, the county is seeking the maximum penalties permitted by law for each violation, demanding that the defendants remove those items and conditions violating the ordinance and stay in compliance, asking for an award to the county of “reasonable” attorney fees and costs, and for “such other relief as the Court deems just and equitable.”

Nuisance ordinance violations are reported by citizens, at which point the Archuleta County Building Department views and photographs the property to validate complaints, Sjoblom said.

Valid complaints are then given to the county attorney, who determines if the complaint is an infraction. If so, the property is posted and the property owners have 30 days to contact the building department and come up with a mitigation plan, Sjoblom said.

If no mitigation takes place or arrangements are not made, a certified letter is sent, warning the property owners that they have another 30 days to comply..

If there is still no response, the county attorney sends a letter notifying the owners they are subject to litigation and have a final 30 days to comply, at which point the complaint is taken to a judge, Sjoblom said.

“It’s not the county’s policy to harass people,” Sjoblom said, adding that it’s easier to work with people to help them find a solution to a problem and that property owners are given ample opportunity to comply.

“Ultimately, we just hope people clean up,” Sjoblom said. “We don’t drive around looking (for infractions), it’s completely complaint-driven.”

Of a total of 69 complaints reported to the building department in 2009, these two have reached litigation. Twenty-two have been mitigated, a number are still ongoing, and others were deemed either low priority or were not valid complaints.

Fourteen of the complaints were for the areas east of Pagosa Springs around U.S. 160 and U.S. 84; 24 were in the Pagosa Lakes area; 14 were in the area west of Pagosa Springs near U.S. 160, U.S. 151 and Arboles; and 17 were in Aspen Springs.

“What we’re trying to clean up first are the life, health, safety issues,” Sjoblom said.