Steamboat Springs District Court Judge Joel Thompson dismissed a claim for injunctive relief Thursday filed by Kay and David Sieverding against Steamboat Springs City Council President Kevin Bennett and his wife, Jane.
The Sieverdings sought to prevent the Bennetts from continuing with two construction projects on their property on Princeton Avenue in Old Town Steamboat. The Sieverdings, who are neighbors of the Bennetts, contend the construction of a new garage and refurbishing of a log shed on the Bennett property are occurring in violation of the Community Development Code.
Thompson did not rule on the Sieverdings' claims of code violations. Instead, he found that his court did not have jurisdiction over the matter and that the Sieverdings, as private residents, did not have the legal "standing" to require the city to apply the code as they sought to.
"I find I don't even have the authority to hear this action," Thompson said. "I also find the two of you don't have standing to enforce the municipal code. I find these two things effectively kill this action. I'm going to dismiss this action altogether."
The Sieverdings represented themselves in court. They said they contacted as many as a dozen attorneys seeking representation but were turned down.
Kay Sieverding told the judge she only turned to the court after contacting everyone she could think of at City Hall in an effort to get them to stop the Bennetts' construction.
"I tried to get the city to enforce the code," Sieverding said. "They're unwilling to enforce the city code against the president of City Council. They're incapable of dealing with this.This is basically a court of last resort."
Essentially, the Sieverdings claim that the Bennetts new unattached garage contains more auxiliary space beyond that required for automobiles, and more than what is allowed for accessory structures under city code. In the case of the log shed, it is an acknowledged "nonconforming preexisting structure." The Bennetts are converting it into an accessory apartment. Sieverding is claiming the alterations go beyond what is allowed by the code.
Documents on file with the court indicate Kay Sieverding received a six-page letter from Planning Director Wendie Schulenburg responding, point by point, to alleged code violations Sieverding has brought out in a series of letters to city staff and City Council.
Sandy Horner, an attorney representing the Bennetts, said his clients were prepared to show they have done everything required of them by the building department and the planning department.
Following Thursday's court hearing, Bennett said he believes the Sieverdings efforts to obtain court-ordered injunction against him are part of a pattern.
"Jane and I represent the third and fourth neighbors that have been taken to court by the Sieverdings in recent months, only to have it thrown out," Bennett said. "They have represented themselves while we, the neighbors, incurred legal costs. They are frivolous actions and unfounded actions, and have no basis in fact in either of the cases against the four neighbors. The fear, sadness and anxiety in our neighborhood is truly personified in these actions."
Thompson was persuaded by the arguments of Horner to dismiss the case. Horner cited the city's home rule charter which gives it "exclusive jurisdiction" over its own ordinances.
Thompson challenged Horner to explain to him why he objected to the Sieverdings' efforts to claim injunctive relief in District Court in light of the city's recent action against local chiropractor David Criste. Thompson reminded Horner that the city recently went to District Court to seek an injunction to prevent Criste from completing his Old Town building because it was alleged to have violated city code.
Horner was able to persuade the judge there is a substantial difference between the city going to District Court to seek to defend and enforce its development code, and a private resident going to court in an attempt to enforce the code.
Thursday's court hearing took on a different feel from many because the Sieverdings were representing themselves. Kay Sieverding began by calling her husband to the stand. But she was unable to insert much testimony into the record because Horner raised a series of objections that were sustained by the judge and thwarted many of Sieverdings' lines of questioning.
Horner told the judge early in the proceedings that he intended to make a motion for dismissal. But the judge held that ruling in abeyance until the end, and heard almost two and a half hours of testimony first.
The judge showed patience, explaining to the Sieverdings the procedures for admitting exhibits into evidence, and explaining why he sustained Horner's objections to the admission of letters she had received from city officials.
Because those city officials hadn't been subpoenaed to testify, Thompson said, the Bennetts right to cross examine them could not be preserved.
Kay Sieverding made more headway after she excused her husband from the witness stand and called Kevin Bennett to testify.
Sieverding produced photographs of the shed in question and asked Bennett detailed questions about the activities on his property. Bennett spoke in even tones as he answered Sieverding's detailed questions about the size of his buildings and their distance from the city right-of-way on Princeton.
However, Sieverding was unable to convince the judge to admit into evidence a copy of a mediated agreement reached between the plaintiffs in 1999. And her effort to admit portions of the Community Development Code were rejected because they were not "certified" by a city official.
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