Tuesday, November 28, 2000
Steamboat Springs Although it breathed a sigh of relief when a judge dismissed the case of a disgruntled chiropractor, the city is trying to make sure that the oversights that led to the lawsuit do not happen again.
David Criste, a local chiropractor who won a lawsuit against the city this May, had a federal civil rights case dismissed last week after Judge Clarence A. Brimmer ruled Criste had missed his chance to seek damages from the city in May.
The city, which was forced to allow Criste to build a home that violated city setback rules, has been attempting to prevent similar conflicts from occurring again.
Although Criste's development permit contained setbacks that were compliant with the city's development code, the building permit he applied for was different from the development permit. It contained setback alterations that the city had not initially approved but the planning staff signed off on. When Criste began construction on his building with the new setbacks, however, the city asked the building department to issue a "cessation order" to stop work on the building. After continued dispute and discussions, Criste and the city each filed suits and litigation that would last about three years, through a number of different cases, began.
The city is primed now to avoid further conflicts due to oversights.
"It was a matter of his having done something that was different from what was approved," said City Councilman Bud Romberg. "The city should have been much more stringent about it."
Romberg said the problem was not a lack of regulations but a lack of diligence.
"I don't think we need greater stringency in the code. I think we need greater stringency in terms of having the conditions be met," he said.
Acting Assistant Planning Director Scott Woodford said the city has been more stringent in its review of applications since the Criste case.
"We've already been instructed by the city attorney to take a much closer look at building permits," Woodford said. "We have accepted plans in the past that were not as professional as they should have been. They might have met the minimum specifications but were not of the quality we are now requiring. We can't give people the benefit of the doubt with court decisions like this."
He said the city is paying special attention to how building permits may differ from development permits.
City Attorney Tony Lettunich said the city may try to institute a new process in the new development code through which a surveyor would check a building's site plan after the foundation was poured to make sure it conformed with the plan that was initially approved.
"Dr. Criste submitted an erroneous site plan. The city relied on that erroneous site plan when issuing a building permit," Lettunich said.