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Bayfield meeting on Sunrise Estates problems gets testy
5/11/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
Complaints about the Sunrise Estates subdivision resurfaced like a backed up sewer line at the May 2 Bayfield Town Board meeting. That was, in fact, one of the complaints.
Sunrise Estates residents have been complaining for a couple years about faulty or uncompleted infrastructure improvements. During heavy rains last fall, a drainage ditch allowed runoff to flood Mike Deming’s downhill property next door.
The town has already called the subdivision developer’s performance bond because of the ditch.
Sunrise Estates east of the Shell Convenience Mart was built by CATOF – a partnership of Fred Copenhaver, Jim Morris, and Tim Cooney. It is single family lots with multi-family lots on the west edge.
The multi-family lots were bought and re-platted for townhomes by John Ralph and Brett Doty, two of those complaining Tuesday night.
Town Manager Justin Clifton said, “Every neighborhood is going to have some problems. This one is really bad. The town was hosed.”
No developers’ representative was present Tuesday. Kenneth Golden, a Durango attorney representing the developers, said he didn’t know Sunrise Estates was on the meeting agenda until the day of the meeting, and he was unable to attend.
Golden said he couldn’t comment on his clients efforts because they’re still negotiating with the town.
“I’m hopeful there’s going to be a resolution,” he said.
Sunrise resident Cindy Smart asked if it is too much to expect for the town to hold the developers accountable.
Town attorney Dirk Nelson said that from the town’s perspective, the two items still outstanding are the drainage ditch and the irrigation system. “It’s apparent that drainage ditch can’t be built as designed. Russell (Engineering) submitted a plan for a ditch half that size,” he said.
Clifton added, “We told the developer that to even advance a ditch plan different from what the board approved, they have to come back to the board. They’ve never done that, but they say they are waiting on (the board). You approved a ditch that can carry around 40 cubic feet per second. They are proposing one that can carry 18.”
The ditch might need to be totally re-designed, Nelson said. “The bonding company says they bonded to build what was designed. It can’t be built as designed.” There is concern that the ditch has eroded. Nelson said he notified the bonding company the town plans to fix it.
“I think we’ll have to come up with a whole different idea for the ditch,” Nelson said. “If we want to build something completely different from what was approved, that’s where we’ll get serious push-back from the bonding company.”
Builder Brett Doty said the approved design “was based on faulty engineering. That puts them liable, doesn’t it?”
The developer is arguing a smaller ditch will be adequate, Nelson said. “We don’t know. They need to prove it.”
Smart said the town didn’t help assure that the developers had a state storm drainage plan and permit before the development happened.
“I said we don’t have the intention at this time to enforce things that are strictly state laws,” Clifton said. “I absolutely empathize with what all the homeowners are going through. It’s a situation that needs to be resolved. That’s what we are trying to do.”
A resident complained that the developer and ditch contractor have come on his property to work on the ditch without having any engineering plans.
Another resident asked who is liable if the ditch fails.
“The town has never accepted it,” Nelson said, but potentially everybody could get sued.
Doty complained, “These are the same words that have been going on for two years. If this was your property, it would be in a completely different light. I’ve been involved since 2004. I’ve watched the crap that has gone... Why are we not getting this done?”
Doty said he had to spend $40,000 on irrigation ditch repairs that the developer should have done, so he could build his townhome project.
“Why should I pay for all his mistakes and scams?” Doty asked. “He nickled and dimed the whole project to put more money in his pocket. Now we have to spend thousands of dollars of our own money to fix this. For a $900,000 bond, we should be able to get things done and move on with our lives.”
The raw water irrigation system was the other big source of complaints, but not the only one.
Smart said, “We have a report of why the irrigation system doesn’t work.” She complained that Clifton refused to accept it.
Clifton responded, “I’ve said the determination of anything regarding engineering in that subdivision will be done by our contract employees. … I have a huge file on this.”
Clifton said the developer has not provided engineering to show that the irrigation system can work. “We were working on a model for the entire irrigation system. (Local engineer) Jim Flint said he was doing that. The developer said they didn’t hire him. Jim was hired by Fred Copenhaver to do an analysis of the irrigation system. The burden of proof is on the developer. We never got it.”
Smart said, “The town administration chose not to take action for seven months waiting for a report from Jim Flint. He said he did a thorough report, and if the developer didn’t present it to the town, there’s probably a good reason for it. Everybody has seen that report. It’s accurate. It says (the irrigation system) is not working and it will never work. … The irrigation plan was pie in the sky.”
Clifton said the town can only determine whether the developer built what was promised. “It may be it’s totally inadequate. Their obligation was to build a certain system.”
Nelson said, “It may be the town didn’t check that close enough and they got away with something.”
Smart objected, “We came to you during your final inspection (of subdivision improvements) that the irrigation system wasn’t working. The design was that it would irrigate three houses for an hour and a half.”
Subdivision landscaping was another resident complaint. John Ralph complained about lack of promised landscaping on a highway berm and around the gas well in the middle of the subdivision.
Another resident commented, “You can’t do landscaping without water.”
Ralph objected that the final subdivision punch list in December 2005 was drawn up by Russell Engineering, which at the time represented both the town and the developer.
Clifton said the developer planted trees and they died because of no water. “There were allegations that the system was handed over to the HOA and it wasn’t winterized. There have been claims of other things. It’s been hard enough to wrap our hands around with what we inherited.”
Smart raised a new issue – a sewage back-up into the lowest house in the subdivision. She said there is a faulty lift station. She blamed lack of inspections by the town or sanitation district.
“If there were just a few things corrected, we could live with it,” Smart said. “We are living in a nightmare. We bought homes in a subdivision depending on you to make sure things were done.”
Clifton said of the home sewage back-up, “We have to determine whether that’s a builder mistake.”
Smart said it should have been caught by the town. Clifton said that level of inspections would tack $20,000 onto the cost of every house.
“This is the first I’ve heard about the sewer system,” Nelson said.
Trustee Daryl Yost asked about yet another issue, a neighborhood park.
Nelson said, “The developer is taking the position that the town accepted improvements when it issued certificates of occupancy.”
Clifton said Sunrise will be on town board agendas for every meeting until issues are resolved.
Mayor Jim Harrmann commented, “Where is the developer in all this? I wouldn’t be able to sleep, personally.”
Editor Melanie Mazur contributed to this article.
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