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Court orders cleanup of Aspen Springs property

A Monday hearing to determine damages in a case of a violation of the Archuleta County Nuisance Ordinance ended in favor of the county. The owners of an Aspen Springs property must clean that property or face serious consequences.

As ordered by District Court Judge Gregory G. Lyman, the owners — Don and Nancy Stahlnecker, of 314 Hurt Drive, in Aspen Springs Unit 4 — must deal with the violations or risk jail time and/or a costly administrative warrant allowing the county to clean up the property.

The complaint, filed on June 30 on behalf of the BoCC, alleges that the Stahlneckers are in violation of multiple sections of the county’s nuisance ordinance.

The complaint originated from concern over cars being crushed in a right-of-way that were potentially dangerous to children walking home from school, acting Archuleta County Building Official John Sjoblom said.

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.

Sjoblom had previously noted that the original complaint on the property was called in early in 2009, after which time the property owners repeatedly missed contact and mitigation deadlines. A total of seven certified letters were sent to the property owners.

In September, a default judgement was granted by Lyman, leaving the county to request the damages hearing.

Nancy Stahlnecker appeared at the hearing Monday.

During his testimony at the hearing, Sjoblom circled areas on several photographs to mark the conditions that violated the county’s nuisance ordinance.

According to Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr, Sjoblom also testified that, if the county were to clean up the property, it is estimated it would take two days and cost $8,750 for equipment, operator and landfill fees.

Under the order, the Stahlneckers have until 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 20, to alleviate the violations identified in Sjoblom’s testimony or face a contempt of court charge and a possible administrative warrant by the county.

The county will also be awarded “reasonable attorneys fees” if staff submits an Affidavit of Fees within 14 days.

Should the Stahlneckers be found in contempt of court for failing to clean up their property, they would face jail time and a “significant” bond, said Starr.

If the county were to pursue an administrative warrant and it were granted, Starr explained the county would clean up the property and charge for the cleanup with a lien, plus an additional 5 percent of the cleanup cost.

Additionally, under the order the Stahlneckers are to “refrain from placing items constituting a nuisance on the property except in compliance with the Archuleta County Nuisance Ordinance.”

“Life, safety, health and welfare are better served,” Sjoblom said of the outcome.

“Ultimately, we’re getting what we asked for, which is that the property is cleaned up,” Sjoblom said, adding that because of the cleanup and the lack of fines charged to the Stahlneckers, “I think it ends up being a win-win situation for both parties.”

“What really matters is that the property is going to come within compliance,” Starr said. “My clients, the Board of County Commissioners, were never and are not now interested in forcing their will upon private property owners, but when it involves an issue of the health, safety or welfare of the population in general, the county will continue to act.”

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 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 made, a certified letter is sent, warning the property owner they have another 30 days to comply, Sjoblom said.

If there is still no response, the county attorney sends a letter notifying the owner they are subject to litigation and have 30 days to comply, at which point (with no satisfactory action on the part of the property owner) 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