Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Side Streets: After 40 years condemned, Colorado Springs house may be ordered cleaned up by court

By Bill Vogrin Updated: November 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm

After unsuccessfully trying to get the Joseph O'Brien family to fix up a west-side house that has been condemned 40 years, the city's new code enforcement boss is looking to municipal court for help.

The city of Colorado Springs has cited Joseph's son Glenn William O'Brien, 54, for failure to comply with a notice and order to remove junk and cut weeds on his family's home at 715 N. 24th St., near Thorndale Park in the historic Ramona neighborhood of Colorado Springs.

Tom Wasinger, acting code enforcement administrator, said Glenn O'Brien has claimed responsibility for maintenance of the house. So his staff issued a notice to O'Brien on Sept. 25 to clean it up.

When officers went back to check for progress, they found none, and on Oct. 17, he was issued two summonses, Wasinger said.

Weeds stand tall on the corner lot, which is covered in piles of dirt pushed aside for excavation of a foundation more than a decade ago. Plywood is stained and rotting on the walls, and scaffolding is rusting in place. Piles of wood and other junk are scattered about.

"He hasn't done anything to the property," Wasinger said. "Our only option was to write the summons."

The family has made it clear they didn't want me calling them. So I have respected their wishes.

The summonses are proof Wasinger was serious when he vowed to take an aggressive approach to blighted houses in the city. And the O'Brien house on 24th Street, along with other O'Brien properties, is at the top of his list.

"At some point, we've got to quit allowing these property owners to use us," Wasinger said. "They tell us they're doing repairs. But they are not.

"In my opinion, it's got to be substantial repair. Fixing one window over a year is not substantial."

When he looked at the O'Brien house, Wasinger concluded that time had run out.

"Under my interpretation of the code, all the items around the property - the shingles, the pallets, the stacks of lumber, the scaffolding - is junk and needs to be taken down and put away," he said.

He was further convinced by the lack of formal action by the O'Briens.

"There is no active building permit for the property," Wasinger said. "Nor is there any work being done on the property.

"It's just sitting there."

Still, he didn't want any perception that the city was moving too fast and infringing on private property rights, despite the 40 years of neglect. So he had his staff issue a final notice to clean up the property.

"I felt we should give them one more notice to show that we've tried," he said. "Now it's time to take it to a higher level."

His officer wrote the summonses, which are akin to misdemeanors, he said.

"O'Brien will have to appear in court, and he can plead guilty as with a speeding ticket, or he can choose to fight the ticket and we will end up with a court hearing," Wasinger said.

And that is the route this case is headed.

Last week, O'Brien entered a "not guilty" plea and a pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Dec. 2.

The house has been in the O'Brien family since it was built in 1905. It's one of 10 west-side properties owned by the family.

Wasinger said his staff also cited O'Brien for the 19th Street property where the O'Brien printing business operated for decades.

"The code does not allow for outside storage of junk and debris as has been going on there," Wasinger said, noting that Glenn O'Brien was cooperative with officers when they explained what he needs to do.

"But he's just dragging his feet," Wasinger said. "He's had dumpsters out there, and they just sit there."

The stuff on the 19th Street property was at the heart of another, more serious recent court case involving Glenn O'Brien. He was arrested Feb. 18 on suspicion of felony menacing and felony unlawful discharge of a firearm.

According to police reports, O'Brien allegedly confronted four people he believed were stealing scrap metal from the property. The report said he shot at their vehicle with a shotgun as they fled.

That case was closed Aug. 29 when O'Brien pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief, prosecution spokeswoman Lee Richards said.

O'Brien was sentenced to 48 hours of community service and 18 months of unsupervised probation and was ordered to pay $230 restitution, Richards said.

Wasinger said he hopes O'Brien will cooperate and bring the properties up to code. But he's not confident.

"Our case is pretty straightforward," Wasinger said. "But I think it's going to trial. The judge could order him to clean it up or fine him or both."

It doesn't sound as if Wasinger is going to let the house sit condemned another 40 years.

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Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.

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