City, Criste back in court over Oak Street addition

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— Local chiropractor David Criste's ongoing legal dispute with the city of Steamboat Springs will go to District Court here this week.

Judge Richard Doucette is expected to hear the city's civil case seeking injunctive relief against Criste, as well as Criste's counterclaim. The trial begins at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and is scheduled to continue through Thursday.

Witnesses scheduled to be called in this weeks civil trial of David Criste vs. the city of Steamboat Springs: For the plaintiff: City Attorney Tony Lettunich will call the following witnesses: former building department officials Ron Goodrich and Celeste Bacon, former city planners Karen Campbell and Anne Muhme, local surveyor Greg Hermann, former city manager Van James. In addition, Lettunich may call Jake Henry, David Criste and former city planner Karl Gabrielson to testify. For the defendant: Attorney Edward Serr will call the following witnesses: local banker Jim Simon, Goodrich, Paul Wellman, David Criste. In addition, Serr may may call the following witnesses to testify: Henry, City Council President Kevin Bennett, City Councilwoman Arianthtettner, Leslie Lovejoy, Bacon, Marty Pearlman, Muhme, Campbell and Paul Hands.

If the city prevails, Criste would be required to make his building at 434 Oak St. comply with his original 1993 development permit for an addition to his office and residence. In practical terms, that could mean he would have to tear down the addition, which is largely complete. If Criste prevails, the city could have to allow him to complete the addition.

This week's court case is a "trial to the court" meaning there will not be a jury. However City Attorney Tony Lettunich, and Criste's attorney, Edward Serr, are both expected to call witnesses.

Criste already has initiated a second lawsuit against the city. Filed in U.S. District Court in Denver in March, it alleges the city has violated Criste's civil rights and seeks an unspecified monetary award.

The dispute between Criste and the city revolves around his second-story addition and two levels of approval he had to acquire from the city. The first is the development permit, which was approved by the city Planning Commission and City Council. The second is a building permit, issued by the county building department and signed off on by a city planning official.

Both sides agree that the development permit requires that the second-story addition follow the footprint of the existing building and encroach no further into the building's side setbacks. They further agree that when Criste sought a building permit on May 15, 1995, his plans had changed to include a steel support structure that extended further into the setbacks than the original building, and that he was aware of that fact.

Criste's attorney can be expected to argue that the city should have been aware of the changes to the plan when the city planning department signed off on the building permits. The city, in turn, can be expected to try to persuade the judge that Criste deliberately sought to mislead the city about the changes to his project.

Lawsuit seven years in the making

The story of Criste's attempts to add onto his building goes back seven years.

According to Serr, his client first submitted an application for a development permit to allow a second story addition to his building on March 31, 1993. The permit was subsequently approved.

Criste later learned from his contractors that, in order to build the second story, he would need to add six steel support columns around the outside of the existing building. He submitted his application for a building permit in May 1995.

Serr acknowledges that Criste "was aware that the steel design encroached further into the setbacks than did the original structure," and that he did not seek to amend his development permit to allow the further encroachment into the side setbacks in 1995. However, Criste and his attorney say his construction drawings, reflecting the change, were submitted to city planning as a normal part of the building permit process and were signed off on.

Criste had his concrete foundation poured in late 1995 and the steel frame was being erected in August 1996. Later in the same month, the city asked the building department to issue a "cessation order," according to the lawsuit. Discussions ensued and the stop-work order was lifted on Aug. 23, 1996.

Criste had agreed to seek revision to his development permit, a process that stretched into March 1997, when the petition was denied by City Council.

Criste filed a lawsuit seeking $1.1 million in damages, but a court ruled for the city, saying Criste had not exhausted his administrative remedies because he had not requested that the city grant a variance for his building. Criste went through the variance process and was again denied.

Attempts to settle the lawsuit last fall weren't productive.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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