Deal likely in Andlinger vs. Pitkin County
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A highly contentious and drawn-out fight between the county, a multimillionaire financier and his pricey team of lawyers may finally be coming to an end.
Pitkin County’s first-ever permit revocation hearing against Gerhard Andlinger resumes today under a decidedly optimistic air.
County officials say they anticipate that Andlinger, through an attorney, will admit to violating building and land-use codes when he dug and hauled away an entire hillside and built a trench through sensitive habitat without the necessary permits.
If he does make that admission, pays for a bond to guarantee the cost of repairing the damage and agrees to apply for all required permits, the county will likely drop its effort to revoke the permits he has secured.
“The principal is important – that they admit they can’t build without a permit and go through the process. And we get financial security to make repairs if they don’t receive approval for the work they’ve done,” said County Commissioner Mick Ireland.
It would also allow Andlinger to finish work on his new home off Capitol Creek Road, which has been sitting empty since the county’s Public Works Department red-tagged the site at the end of last summer.
Andlinger is also facing allegations that his work crews violated the terms of a permit to construct two ponds and used illegal roofing materials on his new home.
Andlinger admits his employees failed to obtain the necessary permits, but he has been fighting the county’s attempt to revoke the building permit for what he describes as his new “cabin.” The “cabin” is a 7,500-square-foot luxury home on a 157-acre lot.
It was originally supposed to be located at the bottom of a gently sloping hill near the banks of East Sopris Creek, near the federally protected Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. The homesite was approved by the county because the slope blocked it from an elk mating area.
The county estimates that more than 10,000 cubic yards of dirt were carted away in what Andlinger claims was simply an “agricultural improvement.” He testified last December that the hill’s removal has “improved the view” and made it easier to keep an eye on his horses.
In that December hearing, Andlinger and his lead attorney, Tom Smith, argued that permits were never secured because so many consultants were working on the home that no one was in charge. They’ve had more trouble explaining why the hill was trucked away even after everyone working on the site was aware that no permit had been granted.
The builders and consultants to Andlinger on the project include some of the most recognizable names in the local development industry: lead contractor Norris Homes; a landscape design consultant from the national consulting agency OTAK; the engineering firm Schmueser Gordon Meyer; a water attorney from Patrick, Miller and Kropf; and former county attorney Smith.
The hill was razed and the trench dug by crews under the direction of Norris Homes, the lead contractor on the project. Norris Homes has already been punished by the building department for its role in the debacle, receiving a short probationary period and being ordered to organize and fund classes on permitting for the building industry.
Today’s hearing was originally planned so the county could present evidence about the trench.
The county maintains that Andlinger didn’t like the way the water from two wells close to the new house tasted, so he decided to tap the spring on a far corner of the property. To get there, a trench for the piping was cut through wetlands and riparian areas and across a steep, sage-covered hillside.
The county has evidence that crews continued digging the trench for the water pipes even after they knew a permit had not been granted.
Andlinger has countered that the water from the wells is undrinkable and the spring was the only option. He hired the area’s top water law firm, Patrick, Miller and Kropf, to argue that his decision to tap the spring is legal under federal law, even if the county didn’t sign off on it.
A memo from the county’s Environmental Health Department says, however, that problems with the well water could have been fixed through treatment. It also includes results of a test of the spring water that revealed e-coli, a potentially deadly bacteria.
If Andlinger decides not to admit to any wrongdoing, the case will continue with a more formal hearing. However, County Attorney John Ely said his discussions with Smith suggested that Andlinger was ready to accept the county’s terms.
Andlinger’s attorney did not return a phone call yesterday.
Today’s hearing is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.
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