Basalt candidate OK’d illegal home
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A former chief building official and current council candidate in Basalt approved a 6,000-square-foot home shortly before he left the town staff last year even though houses larger than 5,000 square feet are prohibited.
Mark Kittle approved plans in March 2003 for a house that he calculated would be about 6,037 square feet. Nearly 2 1/2 years before that, the Town Council passed an ordinance limiting house sizes to 5,000 square feet.
The town government discovered the error, and two others that didn’t involve as much square footage, last fall.
Kittle left Basalt town government in April 2003 to take a similar position with the town of Snowmass Village. He is making a bid to get involved again with Basalt government, running for one of three open seats on the Basalt Town Council.
He said this week that he was unaware Basalt had ever passed the house-size limit. Kittle said he checked plans based on his assumption that lot sizes dictated the size of a house that could be built.
“The only 5,000-square-foot ordinance I was aware of was the sprinkler ordinance,” he said.
He was referring to a town regulation that requires new structures in excess of 5,000 square feet to be fitted with an interior sprinkler system to prevent the spread of fires. But Basalt also passed its house-size cap in August 2000, while Kittle was a town employee.
As the chief building official, Kittle was in charge of reviewing and approving building plans once a property owner had land-use approvals. Town records indicate Kittle approved plans on March 24, 2003, for a new house at 128 Ridge Road. The applicant was Grant Timroth.
Town staff started receiving “standard” inquiries in summer and early fall of 2003 from neighbors of the Timroth property, according to Betsy Suerth, assistant town manager in Basalt. The neighbors wanted to know more about the house being developed beside them, she said.
Research by the planning department showed that Timroth calculated on his application that he was building a 5,000-square-foot home. Kittle recalculated and came up with a figure of 6,037 square feet, according to Suerth. The house plan was approved by Kittle for that size, Suerth said.
The town staff discovered the 1,037-square-foot error in October 2003. It was brought to Timroth’s attention but by that time he had already dug a foundation and started work. Suerth said Timroth’s position was, understandably, that he had approved plans and had paid his fees.
“Once it’s approved by the chief building official, the town doesn’t have a lot of recourse,” Suerth said.
Suerth said when a town employee asked Kittle last fall about the Timroth home, Kittle said he was unaware of the house-size cap.
She was at a loss to explain how the town’s chief building official could be unaware of such a major part of the town code.
“Mark Kittle was involved in the development of the ordinance,” Suerth said. “It’s difficult for me to believe he was ignorant of it. It’s curious, and I wish I knew the answer.”
Kittle has an answer. He said he was never told of the ordinance by anyone on the staff and was not involved in the drafting of it. In addition, he said it wouldn’t have been his responsibility as chief building official to check for compliance to the square-footage ordinance. That’s a zoning issue so it was the responsibility of the town’s planning office, he said.
Suerth said that isn’t accurate. She said both building and planning employees had a responsibility to check square footages.
Suerth began overseeing the building and planning departments after Kittle departed. She did not supervise Kittle at the time the Timroth permit was issued.
Suerth said a random sample audit of house plans approved by Kittle between the approval of the house-size cap ordinance and his departure indicate two other homes slightly larger than 5,000 square feet were approved.
“It’s disheartening,” Suerth said.
A neighbor of the Timroth property finds it more than disheartening. Libby Sullivan said she has nothing against Kittle personally, but questions if a building inspector who was unaware of a house-size cap would be fit to serve as a councilman. Sullivan was one of two neighbors that made inquiries that led to the town’s discovery of the size violations.
Sullivan said the size of the house causes problems for the neighbors because it comes so close to their lots. It creates potential drainage issues on one neighbor’s property and visual issues for Sullivan.
“It didn’t occur to me they would build lot line to line,” said Sullivan. “I’d love to see a wrecking ball next door. I really would.”
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]