CB councilman ignored town building permit rules for months

Permit obtained and fine paid after requests from 2016

by Mark Reaman

For more than six months a Crested Butte town councilman flouted town rules and ignored repeated requests from town staff to obtain a building permit for work being done on his house.

Councilman Paul Merck moved out of his Teocalli Avenue house last fall to accommodate work inside the structure that started after a leak in the kitchen. He and his family spent many months living in Mt. Crested Butte during the work project.

It was only after Merck learned that the Crested Butte News was looking into the matter that his wife, Lisa submitted the paperwork and paid for a building permit. A fine was also part of the payment. That occurred Tuesday morning, June 13, six days after Merck learned of a CORA (Colorado Open Records Request Act) request for correspondence between Merck and the town concerning the lack of a building permit.

“Lisa did come by and submitted their building permit today, paid the fee, and we have all of the supporting documentation that has been requested by the building department,” confirmed Crested Butte town manger Dara MacDonald. ”We will conduct a final inspection once the work has been completed.”

But it took since the end of last year and numerous requests from the Crested Butte building department and town senior staff for Merck to adhere to town regulations. The Crested Butte News obtained several emails from the town to Merck, his contractor and his insurance adjuster through the CORA request explaining the need for such a permit. The requests began in November 2016. Merck did not formally respond to the town requests until Tuesday.

Email trail

Several emails written last fall from Crested Butte building inspector Astrid Matison to the insurance company explained that projected work would likely need an engineer’s stamp on plans and possibly a building permit.

On November 30 the town emailed Merck’s contractor, Gene Mason, stating, “A basic repair job would not require a permit; however in this case I believe you do need a permit. Stop by to discuss the project with me at your earliest convenience please.”

Matison emailed Merck directly on December 1. “When you are back in town let’s meet about your house,” the email stated. “You may or may not need a permit.”

A January 17 email to Merck informed him that a building permit was indeed necessary since electrical and plumbing work was part of the project. Merck did not comply with the request. An April 19 letter cited town code explaining the regulations and requirements for a building permit. Still there was no follow-through by Merck.

A letter from the town to Merck dated May 21 detailed the scope of work that took place in the house. “I discussed this project with [town manager] Dara MacDonald and [town building and zoning director] Bob Gillie. They both agree since the project is more than a facelift/repair that a permit must be pulled for the project. Pulling an electrical and plumbing permit in itself triggers the requirement… I completely understand how the project got started and morphed into further work; however, you need to comply with the Town Code Building Regulations,” Matison wrote.

That and other correspondence went unanswered. By June 1, Matison simply was emailing Merck with the subject line “When are you coming in to finalize the permit for your house project please?”

Just looking for compliance

Obtaining a building permit for such work is standard in Crested Butte and is required under the laws of the town. MacDonald said the town’s ordinance is clear and is meant to make sure structures in town are safe. The ordinance reads that the Town Council finds that “the adoption of uniform codes of construction is necessary to ensure safe and sound construction of buildings … goals of the Town Council (are) to achieve standardized, safe construction.”

MacDonald explained that the Merck situation was not normal. “This scope of work requires a building permit. The work should not even start without a building permit,” she said.

Matison did say Merck stopped into the building department several times since last fall to informally discuss the project.

Both MacDonald and Gillie had spoken with Merck about the situation earlier in 2017. “All we wanted was compliance,” she said. “It was after members of senior staff talked to him this spring that Astrid sent him a formal letter detailing the reasoning for the building permit requirement.”

When asked if the staff tip-toed around Merck for more than six months because he was on Town Council instead of red-tagging and stopping the project, MacDonald said the staff treats everyone the same. “The laws are the same whether you are on council or not,” she said. “We are always willing to talk and work with people. We are just seeking compliance. But this situation was an anomaly. Usually when someone gets a notice or question about non-compliance they hurry up and rectify the situation pretty quickly. That is not the case here. Overall in town, we have a large degree of compliance.”

MacDonald informed Merck last week that the News had filed a formal CORA request about the situation. Shortly after that, a meeting was set up between town officials and Merck’s wife Lisa to address the situation. That meeting was held Tuesday when a building permit was obtained for the project and use tax on the project was submitted to the town.

The cost of the building permit varies by the job. “There is a clear formula for valuing new construction. With remodels we typically rely more on the applicant to supply what seems like a reasonable budget for the project and calculate a valuation from that budget,” MacDonald explained. “In this instance, because staff did not see the property before the work was initiated we are relying entirely on the value provided by the applicant.”

Merck did not respond in detail to questions emailed to him by the News but did say the issue was settled. “Insurance claims are often difficult for all,” he responded in an email. “We have obtained our permit, paid the fees and resolved the issue.”

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