Routt County commissioners suing local couple over ‘illegal’ A-frame |

Routt County commissioners suing local couple over ‘illegal’ A-frame

— The attorney for a Steamboat Springs couple, Lori and Mark Elliott, who are being sued by the Routt County commissioners over what the county alleges is an illegal cabin that lacks a building permit and is too close to a stream, has filed with District Court Judge Shelley Hill for a stay in the court proceedings.

Attorney Ralph Cantafio filed a response to the suit Feb. 27, arguing that the county has failed to exhaust all of the administrative remedies available to resolve the matter as he says is required by the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.

Citing case law Cantafio wrote to the court: “The law in Colorado is extremely clear that a party must exhaust its available administrative remedies before seeking relief in a District Court.”

Asked Friday if he believes his clients are due a formal appeal of their building’s permit status, Cantafio replied, “We think so. We want to have a complete record so we know exactly why it is (the county thinks) our clients are not in compliance…The county files a lawsuit that says my clients are in violation of zoning regulations and also in violation of building codes. I say ‘Wait a second,’ if you’re going to make a claim, that’s fine, but you have to go through the underlying administrative processes before you jump the tracks to the legal process.”

Assistant County Attorney Erick Knaus said this week county commissioners have 21 days from Feb. 27 to respond to Cantafio, and Knaus has already notified Cantafio of the county’s intent to formally object to his request for a stay.

Knaus added that Sept. 9, 2014, the commissioners tabled a request from County Planning for permission to begin an enforcement action against the Elliots, in hopes of reaching an agreement with them. It was on Nov. 18, 2014, with no agreement in place, that they voted to authorize the county attorney’s office to begin an enforcement action. The county filed the suit on Dec. 1, 2014.

The county is asking the court to either compel the Elliotts to take down their building or authorize the county to remove it and bill the owners.

The issue of the Elliotts’ A-frame was first brought to the attention of Routt County government last year by Steamboat Springs attorney John Vanderbloemen on behalf of his clients, Alpine Mountain Ranch Association, alleging an illegal structure had been constructed and was being used for lodging.

The Elliotts (Mark is a Routt County Sheriff’s corporal) said their building is being used as an occasional horse shed and as such, is an agricultural building — a use by right on their five acres in the unauthorized neighborhood of Pine Springs a couple of miles south of the city limits of Steamboat Springs. County officials countered that after several visits to the site, they don’t accept that the building is being used for agricultural purposes.

According to a Sept. 3, 2014, memo to the county commissioners, planning staff described the Elliotts’ building as a “two-story, cabin-type structure” with features including windows with curtains, a door on hinges, a couch, a staircase and a wood stove,” which appears never to have been connected.

The Elliotts have said that when they use the property for camping, they spend the night in a wall tent and use the stove there. In a response to the county’s memo, the Elliotts included a picture of two saddled horses inside the A-frame.

County planning officials said that although they observed a hay bowl and hay, a bag of feed and other implements on site visits to the A-frame, there have been no signs of animal urine or waste on the floors, which would confirm the presence of horses.

In the meantime, Lori Elliott, who is an appraiser, has been searching county property records and filing complaints with the Routt County Regional Building Department about buildings she suspects are not in compliance with either zoning or building permit regulations, Cantafio said. He added that Lori Elliott’s intent is not filing the complaints to expose other property owners but to make the point that the county’s approach to code enforcement is “complaint driven.”

“If no one complains, we don’t look into it,” Catanfio said, giving his take on the county’s code enforcement.

Cantafio’s office produced a copy of a Feb. 26 letter written to the Elliotts by chief building department official Ben Grush in response to two rounds of complaints he had received from them, the first numbering 47 and the second numbering 55 complaints.

“Considering the number of complaints that you have to date submitted (102) and anticipating what you have stated could ultimately swell to 400 complaints within a month’s time, I have no choice but to suspend the segment of the (Building Department’s) policy referring to investigating all complaints within a five working day period,” Grush wrote.

He informed the Elliotts that he would begin evaluating their complaints for legitimacy before responding formally.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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