Motion to raze still-undeveloped Truckee home latest in seven-year battle
TRUCKEE, Calif. — A back-and-forth battle between a Truckee man’s property, his neighbors and town officials will go before council members in September, when the fate of his long-developing home could end in demolition.
Town council on Aug. 11 unanimously approved a resolution to abate the unfinished residence at 12295 Filly Lane in the Glenshire subdivision.
The saga began in 2008, when property owners Lonnie and Tanna Sortor were found to be in breach of town protocol as they began construction on their family home.
However, Mr. Sortor believes it was when neighbors started filing nuisance complaints that town staff began growing more concerned.
While Mr. Sortor maintains he has a building permit now, town records indicate when the Sortors began construction on the home in 2008 — for which that permit and others were required — no such applications were filed.
Town officials state it was only after preliminary work began on the home the Sortors were issued a grading and encroachment permit in November 2008.
However, no permits for a foundation or the construction of the structure were issued, according to town records, prompting officials to issue a Red Tag/Stop Work order for construction on the home in June 2009. Another stop order was issued in August 2010.
Sortor then continued vertical construction, including framing the first floor in 2011 and 2012 without a permit, according to the town
“Mr. Sortor applied for a permit in September 2011; however, he did not make the necessary corrections to the plans and it ultimately expired in September 2012,” said community development director John McLaughlin. “We were unaware that he was doing construction during this time without an issued permit.”
NOT ENOUGH PROGRESS?
While efforts to obtain the necessary permitting and inspections continued, officials said the project failed to meet milestones established by agreements between the town and the Sortors.
By September 2013, the Sortors made requests to extend building permit applications, despite saying they would have the process complete months prior, according to the town. Officials denied the extension based on the Sortors’ alleged lack of progress.
Mr. Sortor cited a downturn in the economy and impacts to his business, which led he and his family to stall development on their home.
“Contracts were lost and money became scarce,” Sortor said. “I’m financially in a position now that I can complete work on the project.”
Amid citations and complaints filed by neighbors, construction continued through 2014, despite proper permitting not being granted until September of that year. It was during that time, according to the town, officials made a final “concerted effort to obtain compliance, issue permits, obtain full restitution for fines incurred, and enter into an agreement for completion of the structure.”
“That was the first date at which we had a complete and approved building permit,” McLaughlin said.
Yet, following a lack of alleged progress as the project entered its seventh year, town officials met with the Sortors in May 2015 before scheduling a call for town council action.
“It is staff’s opinion that the Sortors are not capable of completing this project, and clearly not within the agreed upon time frames,” McLaughlin wrote. “To grant any further extensions will likely lead to additional expenditures by the Sortors, but not necessarily result in a completed structure in a reasonable time frame.”
Since a June 9 meeting, town officials maintain the Sortors have made no further efforts to complete construction.
However, during the Aug. 11 meeting, Mr. Sortor, owner of Construction Management & Consulting Group, explained his frustration with town decisions and pleaded for the council give him more time to obtain required permitting.
“I felt handcuffed by the comments made by the public and the council in the meeting on June 9,” Sortor said during the Aug. 11 meeting. “My attorney recommended that I not make further progress on the building unless I have a guarantee that the town will not tear down the property.”
Sortor requested a guarantee from town officials to not tear down the structure and grant him the time to finish the project, work he believes can be completed within 60 days.
“I’m asking for the 60 days of time back during which I was waiting for an affirmative guarantee from the town that my structure will not be torn down,” Sortor added.
McLaughlin and town officials believe at this point it would not be possible for the Sortors to comply with the September 2014 Settlement and Release Agreement, which required them to complete the structure within one year.
A UNIQUE SITUATION
If the Sortors cannot complete construction by Sept. 3, the town will spend anywhere between $20,000 to $60,000 to demolish the structure and foundation, and to clean up the site, a cost that will depend upon the contractor awarded the project.
While the town will bear the costs to remove the structure, it could secure repayment by placing a lien on the eventual sale of the property. It will remain up to the Sortors if and when they decide to sell it.
“If it takes 20 years to sell the property, the town won’t see that money until then,” McLaughlin said.
Meanwhile, Sortor believes there is an amicable solution to the situation, and he wonders how many other open permits exist similar to his that are not being forced an ultimatum.
To that, the “Sortors constitute a very unique situation,” McLaughlin said.
“This is the only such project with these time frames or issues,” McLaughlin said. “We have numerous code compliance cases each year (that) involve work without a permit, but once construction is stopped and we notify the owner or contractor, permits are generally applied for and work continues under approved plans.”
Still, to lose the home and all of the work he has put into its development would bear a “huge financial impact,” Sortor said.
“I don’t know where it goes, but I want this to have a good ending for myself, and for my neighbors,” he said. “I hope they know I’m not the bad guy; I’m just an average man trying to do the right thing for his family.”
As for the town, while staff has not tracked the actual hours spent on this issue since 2008, McLaughlin said town expenses have been “in the tens of thousands of dollars.”