Bruce under fire for empty property

Jane Thomsen and others say they’re tired of the boarded-up building. Douglas Bruce said the city is retaliating against him by declaring his Kiowa Street building dilapidated. The city says it just wants it cleaned up. Photo by (CAROL LAWRENCE, THE GAZETTE)

   Jane Thomsen and her west-side neighbors are tired of the boarded up, run-down building at 1326 W. Kiowa St. dragging down property values and serving as an occasional shelter to vagrants.   "You can't be allowed to have a property like this. It's just not right," Thomsen said as she strolled by nearby homes with manicured lawns, rose bushes, even an orchard.   Colorado Springs officials agree, and the city has declared the fourplex owned by Douglas Bruce a dilapidated building.   The city will start billing Bruce, a former El Paso County commissioner who was appointed to a state House seat last year, $500 per quarter for inspection fees. It's the latest in a string of city actions against Bruce's ill-kept properties.   Bruce asserts the building is safe and that he's spent tens of thousands of dollars readying it for sale. He contends the city is retaliating because he wrote tax limitation laws and two ballot proposals that would further restrict city revenue.   "They're interested in needling me 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "There's no law under which the city can force somebody to be a landlord. It is not a crime to own an empty building, period."   Code enforcement administrator Ken Lewis denied the action is political.   "The whole idea behind this code is not to punish anyone," Lewis said. "It's to get movement on these houses sitting there in this condition for years and years."   Bruce bought the property in February 1993 for $9,500, according to land records. A 3-year-old boy died in a fire there on Dec. 1, 1992.   Today, the assessor values the fourplex at $15,813.   Bruce said he's hauled out loads of debris, charred wood and other materials, repaired the interior, reroofed the building, added siding and rebuilt the curb.   "There was a raccoon in there," he said. "We set a trap, and there's no longer a raccoon in there. We sealed all the openings where an animal could get in, so it's all sealed up. It's been worked on. Improvements will continue."   He said the building poses no danger, adding, "This is 10 times better than when I bought it."   Bruce said he's leaving wiring, drywall and other interior work to the new owner who might choose to remodel it into a duplex or a single-family home.   His asking price is $160,000.   Lewis acknowledged that Bruce's property is kept up fairly well and that Bruce handles problems when reported.   "If someone calls him and says someone broke in, or the weeds are too tall, he takes care of it," Lewis said. "It's just the fact that the properties are sitting and the neighbors hate it."   Lewis said the building has been on the city's list for years, but 40 worse places in the city took priority.   Among those were two four-plexes Bruce owned on Ruskin Way. The city imposed inspection fees on those last year, and Bruce appealed.   The city dropped its case in May after Bruce sold the units.   Lewis said the city wants to inspect the Kiowa building, including a structural review, within the next two weeks and bill Bruce. "I'm assuming as soon he gets the first bill, he'll appeal," Lewis said.   Laura Ben-Amots, the area's Neighborhood Watch captain, said she hopes the latest complaints get results.   "Our block is really a proud block," she said.    CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0238 or pam.zubeck@gazette.com

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