Unfinished business

Years of legal wrangling keeps home on Fish Creek Falls Road standing

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— The house at 1170 Fish Creek Falls Road stands out from its surroundings.

The holes where windows should go are covered with plastic the color of Pepto Bismol. The plywood sheathing has never been covered by siding. The home is only half completed and appears to be deteriorating. It has been that way for several years.

Routt County Building Inspector Mark Marchus declared the house to be an unsafe nuisance almost two years ago. He began proceedings that could ultimately lead to the house being torn down by the City of Steamboat Springs. But it hasn't happened yet.

"I sent an abatement letter to the owners in November 2000 saying 'fix it, or we're going to tear it down,'" Marchus said. "I started to set up a hearing and at that point in time, the courts got involved."

The people who were building the home have no intention of allowing the house to be torn down. And a court hearing scheduled for Oct. 22 in district court here could allow construction to go forward.

The short version of the story is that the couple building the house went through a divorce. Actually, a two-phased divorce. The dissolution of Joanna Maxwell's marriage to Curtis McCullough was recently completed in the state of Mississippi. However the judge in Mississippi told the couple he would not rule on the division of their marital property in Colorado.

In effect, that decision held up the construction of the Steamboat home while the divorce case was settled in Mississippi.

"Right now, nobody knows who is going to end up with that home," Kent Borchard said. "We have a hearing scheduled this fall and after that, I think things could move pretty quickly."

Borchard is a Meeker attorney presenting McCullough. He says his client, who currently lives in Mexico while working as an engineer on a mining project, fully intends to complete the house if he retains ownership.

His ex-wife, Joanna Maxwell, said from her home in Brookhaven, Miss., this week, that she would also like to be awarded the house, complete it and move in permanently.

The original building permit for the house was issued in 1994, according to records on file at the building department. A foundation was poured, but the work didn't go any further. When framing work began in spring of 2000, local officials thought they were nearing a solution to the long abandoned project.

"We all went 'whoopee!" Marchus said.

When the failed marriage interrupted construction, Marchus said a local court issued an order forbidding any work to be done on the house.

Borchard said neither party in the divorce case felt safe investing more in the construction of the home, without knowing whether or not they would end up with it.

Joanna Maxwell, the former Joanna McCullough, said Thursday that at one point she and her two young children lived for almost a year in a travel trailer parked in the garage of the partially complete house. Her desire is to emerge from the divorce with ownership of the home.

"I would like to finish it and live in it," she said.

When Marchus issued the original abatement order in late fall of 2000, he observed that the house represented a dangerous condition "because of the lack of weather resistant qualities and secured entries." He further declared the abandoned house to be an "attractive nuisance to children, vagrants, criminals and amoral persons."

Marchus added that he will renew his effort to bring about an abatement hearing at such time as the property settlement identifies the future owner of the partially completed house. "We'll contact the owner saying we'll give them a reasonable amount of time to correct the situation or we'll exercise our abatement option usually that's tearing it down."

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