Dispute over house project could return owner to jail

June 1, 2008
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A five-year battle over a house-expansion project climaxes today in a court hearing that could send a Colorado Springs accountant back to jail for contempt of court.

Antonio Villa is in trouble because he built three additions on his house without city permits.

Already, the case has cost Villa nearly a week in jail and $20,300 in fines for ignoring 4th Judicial District Judge Timothy Simmons' orders.

Villa said it has cost him $75,000 to challenge the city's authority to regulate his house expansion. He says he is being harassed.

"A lot of businesses operate out of their homes," he said angrily. "Why am I any different?"

The city insists it is simply trying to enforce building codes and protect Villa and his neighbors from dangerous building practices.

"Mr. Villa was operating a business from his home in violation of code," said Thomas Marrese, a city attorney. "He built a bunch of additions without any permits or inspections. We've been trying to get him to remedy it. But he is very stubborn.

"He was assessed a $100-a-day fine that accumulated to $20,300. He sat in jail for three or four days. And he still won't comply. I've been doing this 19 years and this is only the second case I've ever had that went this far."

Villa claims neighbors, the city and the courts are conspiring against him, alleging: "There's a helluva lot more to this story."

Villa came under scrutiny in 2003, after city inspector Pam Brady discovered the three additions to his 49-year-old ranch house at 726 S. Circle Drive. (See photos on my Side Streets blog at gazette.com)

First, Villa added 1,500 square feet by enclosing a patio, doubling the size of the house. He also added an office, bathroom and a workshop. Outside, he built a driveway and parking lot.

Inspectors say the additions were a safety risk. For example, one addition was erected on 4-by-4 posts embedded in 5-gallon buckets of concrete. And the bathroom was attached to a neighbor's sewer illegally.

"It's a matter of the city stepping all over me," Villa said, explaining he tapped the neighbor's sewer because the line crossed his property.

He blamed contractor negligence for the buckets of concrete and for bad advice about the need for building permits.

More than a year after the court order, Villa is complying. Grudgingly.

The patio room and workshop are gone. And on Wednesday, a worker began taking down the office. But the illegal parking lot remained, and Villa said he did not intend to remove it.

In fact, he is planning to erect a temporary steel building on his parking lot. And, he says, the fight isn't over just because he removed the additions.

"Every time I meet with the city, there's something else I've done wrong," he said.

Tell me about your neighborhood: 636-0193 or bill.vogrin@gazette.com

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