Premium content

County moves forward with legal action concerning issues at 284 Piper Place


At an April 16 Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) work session, County Attorney Todd Weaver asked for and received permission from the BoCC to move forward with legal action to obtain an administrative entry and seizure warrant for the property at 284 Piper Place.

This request followed a discussion of issues at the property at the March 19 BoCC meeting, where several neighbors of the property raised concerns about the accumulation of junk on the property, and the potential health and safety risks it poses.

Stacey Foss, who also serves on the Archuleta County Board of Health, opened a series of public comments on the issue, explaining that she is a neighbor of 284 Piper Place and pointing out discussions at BoCC work sessions about loosening land use codes and the nuisance ordinance.

She commented that, although she broadly agreed with previous statements by commissioners that property owners should be allowed to do what they want on their own land as long as it does not negatively impact their neighbors, the situation at 284 Piper Place does not fall within this category, as it is having a negative effect on the neighbors.

Foss also commented that the process of county intervention with the property through legal action and code enforcement has been slow, and the owners of the property have allowed it to continue to deteriorate.

She stated that she has been informed that further county actions were being delayed due to ongoing efforts to clean up the property, but stated these efforts consisted of burying items in a hill on the property and burning items, which emitted noxious fumes and ignited a nearby tree.

“I believe strongly that the county missed a massive opportunity this last year to collaborate across departments and make positive impacts to all of Archuleta County,” she said. “Collaboration among agencies, department and community could have addressed the safety concerns of improper disposal of sewage, spreading improperly disposed trash through wildlife, ongoing noise and nuisance, and animals at large, thus creating immediate safety for the neighborhood as well as supporting our local law enforcement in addressing ongoing theft and narcotic concerns for our community. I hope as you continue to weigh your discussions of code enforcement, you will recognize that 284 Piper Place does not fit this discussion.”

Carrie Bryant, who also lives on Piper Place, then spoke, stating that the complaints about health and safety at 284 Piper Place have been ongoing for eight years, but that “nothing has been done” and the issues persist, including the property being occupied by individuals who are not the owners.

She commented that she was unsure if the owner was aware of the problems with the property — Foss earlier indicated they were — and that they should be given a specific schedule to clean up the property in the next three months.

She explained that occupants of the property change “frequently,” with campers moving on and off of the property and commented that many of these occupants have “questionable character” with previous “theft and drug charges.”

Bryant added that she was unsure if occupants are there at the permission of the property owner or are squatters.

She also objected to the high amount of vehicle traffic visiting the property in the summer late at night, including visits for what she alleged were drug exchanges.

Bryant indicated that the property contains no septic, electrical or water utilities to her knowledge and that she had not observed any waste being moved off the property, creating concerns about groundwater pollution.

She also noted that the material accumulated on the property creates a health and fire hazard, and raised concerns about if a dog that is often left on the property is experiencing animal cruelty.

Bryant concluded by pointing out that the property is lowering the property value of nearby parcels and requesting that the county take “immediate action” to compel the owners to clean up the property.

Commissioner Veronica Medina asked Bryant if she had ever called animal control about the potential animal cruelty.

Bryant replied that they had been called, but “nobody ever shows up.”

Eric Foss then spoke, reiterating the concerns about sanitation and the “squatters” on the property and noting that Sheriff Mike Le Roux had expressed to him in conversations that he would like to see steps taken to clean up the property and improve safety.

He added that Le Roux also indicated that his deputies have documentation of the issues on the property that could be used by the county to help address the problems.

Eric Foss then referenced a comment made by Commissioner Ronnie Maez at a Feb. 20 BoCC work session that suggested that property owners who do not like what items are stored on a neighbor’s property should relocate, stating that he has looked into the option of moving, but cannot afford to do so.

He concluded by requesting that the BoCC consider these issues in its review of the county land use code and move forward with creating a plan for the cleanup of 284 Piper Place

Eric Foss also refuted Bryant’s comment about animal control not responding to calls about potential animal cruelty, stating that he and Stacey Foss had called and animal control responded, although they could not issue a citation because they could not find the owner.

Eric Davidson then spoke, commenting that the county has a responsibility to enforce the nuisance ordinance and is a key factor in securing legitimate increases in property values for residents.

He added that the county should focus on addressing issues involving rodent infestations and improper disposal of human waste.

Scott Calderwood returned to the issue of 284 Piper Place with his comments, explaining that he is one of the original complainants about the property.

He commented that the property “presents indescribable filth and debris” as well as “questionable activities witnessed since 1997” and a “virtual cesspool” of West Nile virus and hantavirus.

Calderwood explained that the issue was transferred from the county “building department” to the county attorney in 2017 and that numerous contacts with the county attorney’s office followed, as well as unsuccessful efforts to clean up the property.

He stated that, in a May 2019 call with the attorney’s office, the property owner indicated that she had been paying taxes and insurance on the property to maintain her credit rating, but that she had no intention of visiting the area and that, “at this point in her life” she could pay for things with cash and thus did not need to maintain her credit rating.

He added that, in this call, the owner stated that she would not pay to clean up the property and the county “could take it if they wanted it.”

Calderwood added that the county decided to move forward with an administrative entry and seizure warrant for the property later in the 2019.

He then ran out of time to provide additional public comment (there is a three-minute limit) and concluded that eliminating the land use regulations and nuisance ordinance would contribute to the “further decline of Archuleta County.”

Maez commented that many of the restrictions he had spoken in opposition to in discussions of the land use regulations did not apply to the property, which “looks like our old landfill used to.”

Maez continued that he feels the property is attracting and could be accumulating mosquitoes in the ponds of water that form on the property.

He commented that the property is a “health matter” and that his concerns about the land use regulations center on the ability of local landowners to park recreational vehicles or construction equipment necessary for their work on their property.

Maez then asked Weaver the status of the county’s actions concerning the property, adding, “I know that I voted to move on taking this person’s property.”

Weaver replied that, shortly after he began working at the county in 2019, an administrative entry and search warrant was served on the son of the property owner, who then resided on the property.

He explained that the son agreed to work on cleaning up the property but that, shortly after this agreement, he “basically disappeared” and has not revisited the property “in some time.”

Weaver added that the owner, Peggy Payne, who used to live in Texas and now likely resides in Florida, has indicated that she does not care about losing the property.

He stated that he did not believe authority was ever given to hire a contractor to clean up the property.

Payne’s daughter, who lives in the area, now appears to be acting as an agent on Payne’s behalf, Weaver explained, adding that he is drafting a compliance agreement stating that, if the property is not cleaned up by July 31, the county will resume legal action to obtain a warrant.

He concluded that he would be sending this agreement “this week.”

Commissioner Warren Brown stated that, in his understanding, Payne’s daughter purchased the property or that she paid the unpaid property taxes on the property.

Weaver explained that the property had gone up for a tax sale due to delinquent property tax payments and that an investor purchased it, but that Payne’s daughter redeemed the property on Payne’s behalf by paying the delinquent taxes and interest, keeping it in Payne’s name.

He added that there was “talk” that Payne would transfer the property to the daughter, but that he was not aware of this occurring.

Brown asked what the county actions would be if the compliance agreement is not met.

Weaver stated that, since the last legal action on the property was in 2019, the county would likely have to file a new case, which would involve a process of the county submitting a complaint and the owner having an opportunity to respond to the complaint.

He indicated that, if the owner does not respond, the county could request default judgment and attempt to obtain a warrant that would allow the county to hire a contractor to enter and clean up the property.

He explained that the costs of the cleaning up the property plus a 5 percent fee to cover the costs of inspections could be assessed against the property as property taxes if these costs are not paid within 30 days.

Weaver added that an additional 10 percent cost could be added to this assessment as a penalty and if these property tax costs are not paid, the property would go up for tax sale.

Commissioner Veronica Medina asked if the involvement of the Archuleta County Public Health Department (ACPHD) due to the apparent accumulation of sewage on the property would be a way to “speed this process up.”

Weaver stated that this would potentially allow faster action through the Board of Health (BoH) and would require ACPHD staff to inspect the property and determine what public health risks may exist at the site.

He added that San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) staff were present at the search of the property in 2019 and that this search found what appeared to be a septic system on the property, although he was not sure if it is in use or operable.

Maez asked what was the cost of the last property cleanup the county performed.

Weaver stated that this cleanup occurred three to four years ago and cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Maez asked what would happen if the county entered the property and began cleaning it up without a warrant, especially since the property owner had indicated that she did not care what happens on the property.

Weaver stated that this would be trespassing and that obtaining a warrant is necessary for the county to take any legally permitted action.

Maez commented that he was “sorry for” the nearby property owners and that the law does not appear to be “on your side” due to how slow the process of addressing the property is.

Brown asked Weaver if the previous legal actions the county had taken to address the issues on the property would support the county moving forward with action at the present time.

Weaver replied that, although there are some ambiguities in the law, the previous warrant likely needed to be issued within 10 days of the previous court ruling and cleanup needed to occur within 30 or 60 days.

Brown commented that it appeared that the county made an agreement with the property owner stipulating terms for cleaning up the property and that they “failed to follow through.”

He added that the county could potentially argue that, due to this failure, the action being taken now to clean up the property is a continuation of the previous action and is occurring due to the property owner not complying with the previous agreement.

Weaver stated that he would have to investigate this issue, but that, from the court’s perspective, no action would have happened since 2019 and the court might rule against this approach.

Brown commented that it appeared, if the county has to restart the case, “we’re talking at least another year.”

Weaver stated that, at the quickest, the county could obtain a warrant in 90 days, but that it could take longer.

Brown commented that it is “totally unacceptable how this process has taken place. Being a person who’s had horrific neighbors myself, I absolutely would not stand for this and I think that anything we can do to expedite this and make that 90 days a reality is something we should make a priority.”

Medina asked Weaver if the county could utilize a faster process if the ACPHD determines that there are health hazards, involving sewage or other issues, on the property.

Weaver stated that this is possible, but he was not certain as the ACPHD has only existed since Jan. 1 and SJBPH “basically refused to enforce” these public health standards in Archuleta County, so he was unfamiliar with the specific rules.

Medina asked Weaver to reach out to the ACPHD and look at the rules in statute to determine what options the county might have moving forward.

She added that, if public health threats exist and a public health approach would be faster, she would see this as the best option.

Medina stated that, if this is not possible, the county should start the process for obtaining a warrant immediately, instead of waiting until July, due to the property owner repeatedly failing to meet previous agreements.

Weaver stated he would need to explore what public health options exist and educate the BoH since the county has not had these options in the past under SJBPH.

Maez asked if the county could reach out to the property owner and see if they would consent for the county to clean up the property.

“My only problem with that is they still would own the property,” Medina said.

Weaver added that, without following the statutory process to obtain a warrant, the county could not assess the cost of cleaning up the property onto the property owner and would have no way to recoup the costs.

Maez responded that the cost would also fall onto the taxpayers if the county ends up in possession of the property.

Weaver pointed out that the county could sell the property to recover the costs if it obtains the property and that, without obtaining a warrant, the county would need a separate lawsuit to recover the costs.

Le Roux then spoke to the BoCC, stating that he began discussions with Eric Foss in late August of 2023 and that the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office had responded to up to a dozen calls for service at 284 Piper Place since then.

He added that the ACSO has documentation of “what is on the property” from the fall of 2023, which appeared to be more recent than the documents possessed by the county.

He stated that the ACSO would be willing to provide this information to the county and is “happy to help in whatever capacity we can to make this transition go smoothly.”

Medina commented that supplying this information to Weaver would be helpful.

The BoCC then heard a comment from John Ranson, who is a candidate for Archuleta County commissioner in District 2, although he noted that he was speaking as a citizen and not as a candidate.

Ranson explained that he had been involved with helping Eric and Stacey Foss work with the county on the issue and commented that he does not believe that cost should be a factor in cleaning up the property.

He added that he would like the BoCC to give staff direction to begin moving forward with taking steps to address the property.

Christy Calderwood commented that she “really was angry” about the BoCC’s comments concerning land use regulations being too restrictive and that she wanted a timeline from the county about when the issues on 284 Piper Place would be addressed.

“If you can start this now and keep us informed so that we know what’s going on and so we are not sitting here thinking … they’re all against us, it would certainly be nice,” she said, adding, “This has been a situation.”

“I just don’t want it to take another eight years,” Maez replied.

“Eight years is ridiculous,” Christy Calderwood said, adding that she was concerned by previous BoCC statements. 

She concluded by reiterating her request for the county to communicate with nearby property owners.

William Mayo then spoke, stating that he had purchased a property adjacent to 284 Piper Place last year on which he planned to build a home, but that “you can imagine my potential hesitation on the wisdom of that” due to the issues on the property.

He added that he hopes progress is made remedying the issues on the property.

Medina concluded the discussion by thanking the commenters for sharing the information and comments they presented.

At the April 16 BoCC work session, Weaver explained that he sent a compliance agreement for cleaning up 284 Piper Place to Payne’s daughter with a request that she review and sign the agreement by no later than April 4.

He indicated that he had received no response at the time of the work session.

“I think I said in my email that this was one last chance and I meant that,” Weaver said. “So, I’m asking for direction to move forward with legal action. I think it’s time to file a renewed administrative search, entry and seizure warrant with the court and then talk about getting a contractor lined up to go out clean up the property and move forward and get it done, and the cost will be assessed against the property, and if it’s not paid the county will take the property.”

Medina commented that “this has been a long time coming” and that she would like staff to move forward with the actions Weaver suggested.

Maez expressed support for this and Brown commented, “We’re way past due.”

He added that the county has been “maybe too gracious to the point that it has been infringing upon the other neighbors around this property, so I say we give direction to move forward posthaste.”

Weaver stated that he would move forward.

In a May 1 interview with The SUN, Weaver stated that the legal process is “in the works” and that there are several steps to complete, including obtaining an estimate from a contractor for cleaning up the property before filing a motion with the court and letting conditions on the property dry up.

He stated that he hopes to have a motion filed with the court by the end of May.

Weaver also explained that, if the county chooses to assess the costs of the cleanup as taxes on the property, these would have to be paid by the end of 2025, after which the property would go up for tax sale.

He added that the county could also attempt to file a lien against the property and then attempt to foreclose on the property, which would be a faster process.