May 13, 2009
In August 2007, Side Streets exposed a subdivision south of downtown Colorado Springs where disgraced ex-broker Lee Jeffers assembled an odd collection of 24 rental properties - converted sheds and garages, old and new houses - along a gravel road he called Crockett Lane.
Five were built illegally without permits, inspections or utility hookups. Jeffers piggy-backed water and power off his older houses, and over 20 years, utility workers never noticed the houses with no meters though, somehow, they appeared on the El Paso County Assessor's database.
The bogus houses were discovered after Jeffers pleaded guilty to securities fraud, his finances collapsed and lenders foreclosed on the houses. Real estate agents hired to sell them found no record of the houses at Colorado Springs Utilities or the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, but people bought them anyway.
Today, the houses near Brookside and Corona streets, west of Interstate 25, sit empty, trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare. The new owners feel they are being punished for Jeffers' sins.
They are angry the city waited six months after the Side Streets story came out before declaring them unfit to be occupied. And they are frustrated the city won't help get the houses up to code so they can be occupied.
"I bought my home in February 2008, and two weeks later they put a Certificate of Non-Compliance on it, meaning we couldn't occupy it," said Carol Durell, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and bought a house for her daughter. "That, to me, was very, very troublesome. All of those homes should have had a certificate placed on them immediately. Why did they wait six months?"
Officials can't explain.
"I don't have a good answer," said Terry Brunette, special inspector for Regional Building. "We let it go to see what Springs Utilities was going to do. Unfortunately, a couple sold and closed before our certificates were recorded."
The owners also are angry at the roadblocks they face to legalize the houses, starting with a demand they move them out of the floodplain of Fountain Creek.
"Three houses surrounding mine are not in the floodplain," said Larry Vasterling, who owns a house near Durell's. "But mine is in the floodplain."
So they've hired a surveyor who, they hope, will rule the houses actually sit high enough to escape the floodplain prohibition.
If so, they must get building permits and pay development fees - 10 to 20 years late - get variances for zoning and setbacks, pay tap fees and get easements to run utilities.
Each house will need inspections to see that their foundations, wiring and plumbing are safe.
"It's going to cost us," Durell said. "But I don't want to tear the place down. They are nice little houses with big trees. It could still be a nice area, if the city will just work with us."