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County takes action on nuisance ordinance violation, more to come

With help from a District Court motion seeking default judgement, Archuleta County has filed to set a hearing seeking damages against homeowners who, after previous warnings, have neglected to alleviate conditions placing them in violation of the county’s nuisance ordinance.

A motion seeking default judgement for the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners in the case was granted by District Court Judge Greg Lymon.

The complaint, filed on June 30 on behalf of the BoCC, alleges that the owners — Don and Nancy Stahlnecker — of 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 Stahlneckers 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 owners repeatedly missed contact and mitigation deadlines and said that a total of seven certified letters had been sent to the property owners.

According to the court-filed complaint, the county is seeking that the maximum penalties permitted by law be applied for each violation, that the defendants remove those items and conditions violating the ordinance and stay in compliance, award the county “reasonable” attorney fees and costs, and “such other relief as the Court deems just and equitable.”

County Attorney Todd Starr said county officials were unsure of what specific damages they would seek at the hearing, which he anticipates will take place in mid-to-late October.

“Ultimately, we just want the property cleaned up,” he said, adding that the county is not trying to be punitive.

Likely, the county will seek to have the property owners given a time period, possibly two to three weeks, to clean up, and should they fail to comply, the county would seek incarceration, Starr said.

Because failing to clean up under those circumstances would be contempt of court, each violation could result in up to six months of jail time, Starr explained.

It would be possible for the county to obtain an order to clean up the property, then charge the owner and take necessary steps to receive payment from the property owner, including liens and foreclosure, Starr said, but he added that the county was simply “interested in people complying with the nuisance ordinance.”

Starr said there has been trouble serving a property owner in another case of nuisance order violation, also in Aspen Springs, due to the owner’s residing elsewhere part of the year.

Starr anticipates filing several more nuisance ordinance violations in District Court next week.

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 in a previous SUN interview.

Valid complaints are then given to the county attorney, who determines if the complaint is an infraction. If so, the property is posted and 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 made, a certified letter is sent, warning the property owner that they have another 30 days to comply.

If there is still no response, the county attorney sends a letter notifying the owner that they are subject to litigation and have 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.”

randi@pagosasun.com