2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Colorado Springs neighborhoods losing their champion

    Thu, September 26, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Ken Lewis, retiring Colorado Springs code enforcement administrator

    Ken Lewis, retiring Colorado Springs code enforcement administrator

    Ken Lewis no longer has one of the worst jobs in Colorado Springs.

    For him, I am happy.

    But I’m sorry for all the neighborhoods that are losing their champion in Lewis, who retires today as code enforcement administrator.

    And I’m sorry for whoever tries to replace Lewis, a man I consider one of the city’s most dedicated public servants working in one of the most thankless jobs around.

    092713 Side Streets 3As code enforcement administrator since 2005, Lewis presided over the city’s complaint desk. He and his 10 officers scoured the city, literally, for graffiti. They patrolled for illegal signs. They cruised alleys and vacant lots for illegal dumping. And then there were the weed complaints. They fielded thousands every summer.

    Imagine a staff of 10 patrolling 200 square miles of city streets for weeds and graffiti and trash.

    And that doesn’t mention the important work Lewis and his staff did patrolling the city’s 500 or so apartment complexes for health and safety violations, looking for bedbugs and roaches and rotting patio decks, for example.

    They protected tenants whose landlords are slow to fix broken furnaces, restore water or repair and clean up after sewage backups.

    Since joining the agency in 2004, he’s lived in the trenches, fighting for our quality of life. It was not unusual for Lewis to show up to do the heavy lifting when, for example, a vacant building like the old Fish Market on West Bijou Street needed to be cleaned of homeless trash and boarded up.

    Lewis, 63, really cared, which is probably why he is burned out and ready to retreat to his farm with his family.

    Lewis was an innovator who, for example, knew there had to be a better way than to have clerks jot down complaints on 5-by-8 inch index cards, send them out with officers who scribbled notes on the cards in the field, brought them back to the office to be transcribed into a computer database so a property owner could be notified.

    “I started looking for ways to enhance our abilities,” Lewis said. “I came up with tablets using wireless cards.”

    Complaints phoned in or emailed to the office could be transmitted instantly to officers who sit in front of a dilapidated building, for instance, write up a complaint and transmit it back for a clerk to handle in a matter of minutes instead of hours or days.

    Ken Lewis, Colorado Springs code enforcement administrator, assessed damage done by homeless campers to the old Fish Market restaurant in 2010.

    Ken Lewis, Colorado Springs code enforcement administrator, assessed damage done by homeless campers to the old Fish Market restaurant in 2010.

    “We were using wireless cards before the police department,” Lewis said. “We gained at least 20 percent in productivity by going to tablets with wireless cards.”

    Another innovation was creating an in-house graffiti-removal and trash hauling team, accelerating response time to combat those chronic problems.

    Lewis also campaigned for a blight ordinance, adopted in October 2006, that gives city code enforcers limited power to demand dilapidated properties be improved or face possible removal.

    To make the case for an ordinance, Lewis pointed to the Joseph O’Brien house at 715 N. 24th St., which has been condemned since 1973 — the longest in the city.

    Lewis said the blight ordinance lacks teeth to allow for aggressive enforcement of houses like O’Brien’s. And he said politics made it even harder for him to crack down.

    “I never felt like I had the support on City Council to go take properties like I needed to,” Lewis said.

    That’s one of the big frustrations felt by Lewis, who also is weary of trying to battle complaints that come in at a rate of 1,500 a month with a staff a fraction of the size of comparable cities in Colorado and the U.S.

    As a result, some complaints have to wait while life-threatening issues are addressed by his staff.

    “So people are always mad,” Lewis said. “People lose their minds over the simplest things. The complaints are amazing. And I just don’t have the staff to do it all. It’s part of the reason I’m retiring.”

    It just isn’t as satisfying as his previous career with the Colorado Springs Police Department, where he served nearly 28 years as a major accident investigator, a vice, narcotics and intelligence detective and a patrol officer before retiring in 2001.

    But he was bored on his ranch south of Simla and came back full time as a code enforcement officer, rising to the top of the agency when Karon Dipentino retired.

    Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations

    Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations

    I’m not alone in my admiration for Lewis. Consider what Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, said of him.

    “His retirement is going to be a huge loss for the city,” Munger said. “Ken has, with very limited resources, been working hard to make sure the rules we’ve all agreed to live by, the codes we impose on ourselves, get enforced to protect our quality of life.”

    Munger recalled how Lewis struggled to maintain service despite deep budget cuts in 2009 which slashed his department and added responsibilities.

    “Ken knows that when code enforcement suffers, the whole neighborhood suffers,” Munger said. “He’s been a real friend to neighborhoods and a real professional civil servant completely devoted to the city.

    “He’ll very much be missed.”

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  • Colorado Springs house remains condemned 40 years later

    Sat, August 3, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The O'Brien house at  715 N. 24th Street, has been vacant since 1973, the longest in the city. This is how it appeared July 12, 2002. .Carol Lawrence / The Gazette

    The O’Brien house at 715 N. 24th Street, has been vacant since 1973, the longest in the city. This is how it appeared July 12, 2002. .Carol Lawrence / The Gazette

    Remember 1973?

    Richard Nixon was president of the United States, barely. The U.S. pulled out of Vietnam and stopped bombing Cambodia, ending 12 years of war in Southeast Asia.

    Here's how the O'Brien house looked on July 23, 2013.

    Here’s how the O’Brien house looked on July 23, 2013.

    That year, Watergate became synonymous with corruption and scandal in Washington D.C. as an attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters, orchestrated from the White House, slowly began to bring down the Nixon administration.

    Rotting plywood, rusty scaffolding and weeds surrounded the house on July 23, 2013.

    Rotting plywood, rusty scaffolding and weeds surrounded the house on July 23, 2013.

    And 1973 was the year a little house on North 24th Street on the west side of Colorado Springs was condemned.

    New windows and siding are proof some progress has been made on the house.

    New windows and siding are proof some progress has been made on the house.

    It has been deemed unfit for human habitation ever since.

    This house, owned by Joseph O’Brien, 84, even became the rallying cry for a blight ordinance in 2006 that gave city code enforcers limited power to demand dilapidated properties be improved or face possible removal.

    O'Brien MapTo make the case for a blight ordinance, Ken Lewis, the Police Department’s code enforcement administrator, pointed to the house at 715 N. 24th St., which has been in the O’Brien family since it was built in 1905. It’s one of 10 westside properties owned by O’Brien, who also owned a longtime printing company on 19th Street.

    In the past, O’Brien blamed financial trouble and health problems for his failure to repair the house. The last time the family spoke to me in 2007, his wife, Mary, declined to discuss why the house had spent decades on the city’s dilapidated building list.

    “We’re working on it,” she said before hanging up. “That’s all I can tell you.”

    The family made it clear they didn’t want me calling them again. So I have respected their wishes.

    The reason it remains on the list, even after enactment of the blight ordinance, is because the City Council was reluctant to make it too easy to take private property. So it allowed owners to hold onto property as long as they could show progress was being made.

    Glenn W. O'Brien in a Feb. 18, 2013, mugshot. Courtesy Colorado Springs Police Department.

    Glenn W. O’Brien in a Feb. 18, 2013, mugshot. Courtesy Colorado Springs Police Department.

    I doubt they ever imagined how slow the pace of progress could be. Which brings us to O’Brien’s 54-year-old son, Glenn, who is responsible for renovating the house.

    Lewis said Glenn has been slowly making repairs.

    “It’s getting better one window at a time,” Lewis said.

    In fact, Glenn gave me a tour of the house in July 2002 for the very first Side Streets column. Before I entered, he chained up two vicious junkyard dogs that were the only tenants of the building.

    We picked our way through the interior, which was stuffed with old boards and building materials.

    Glenn told me of his grand plans for the house, which he was transforming from a bungalow into a large two-story house with wide decks and amenities. But work was on indefinite hold due to his back injury and financial problems.

    “It’s probably going to take another year, maybe longer,” Glenn O’Brien said in 2002.

    I mentioned to him that several neighbors were frustrated with the house. They were tired of looking at the rotting mess. They didn’t like hearing construction equipment at odd hours. And they were puzzled by the lurching, stop-and-go pace of construction followed by long stretches of inactivity.

    “I don’t know why one vacant house would worry the neighbors,” O’Brien said. “It’s still probably better than 80 percent of the houses in the neighborhood.

    “It’s just a bunch of nosy damn neighbors.”

    At the time, he had it jacked up to allow pouring of a concrete basement. Large piles of dirt, overgrown with weeds and small trees, were piled in the yard.

    That’s about how it still looks although fewer weeds are visible. And clearly O’Brien has made some progress. But it is nowhere near being ready for the Parade of Homes.

    “We haven’t let the pressure off him and he’s moving in the right direction,” Lewis said. “But he works in slow motion.”

    Lewis said he had inspectors from the Regional Building department over there and “they said it’s not bad enough to condemn it as a dangerous building.”

    Lewis has negotiated a work plan with Glenn O’Brien and he has an officer visit every couple weeks to ensure progress is being made. Otherwise, Lewis said he will write a summons to the elderly owner and begin the process of going to court to ask a judge to strip the owners of possession and control of the house.

    Actually, all that work pouring a basement a decade ago is preventing significant improvement now, Lewis said. That’s because the concrete foundation piers don’t align properly with the building support beams. It needs to be fixed before a basement floor can be poured, Lewis said. And he said O’Brien doesn’t have the money for the work.

    “I’ve suggested to them several times to sell some of the land they own and hire someone to finish this house,” Lewis said. “But they won’t do it.”

    The family owns the house next door and lots across the street among property amassed when the family operated O’Brien Typesetting and Printing on 19th Street.

    In fact, it was at the junk-strewn print shop property that Glenn was arrested Feb. 18 on charges of felony menacing and felony discharge of a firearm.

    Officials now want Glenn O'Brien to clean up the family printing business property on 19th Street.

    Officials now want Glenn O’Brien to clean up the family printing business property on 19th Street.

    According to police reports, O’Brien was arrested after allegedly confronting people he believed were stealing scrap metal from the property and shooting at their vehicle with a shotgun as they fled. A jury trial in the case is scheduled in October, according to prosecution spokeswoman Lee Richards.

    As a result, Lewis has ordered O’Brien to clean up the wooded lot.

    “We’re keeping the pressure on them to slowly work on the house and to clean up the property on 19th Street,” Lewis said. “We’re working on both properties.”

    Still, Lewis is not confident the house will be livable any time soon.

    “I’ve tried being mean and being nice,” Lewis said. “We’re getting some progress even though it’s slow.”

    Then he wondered at the length of time the house has been on the condemned list.

    “That year, 1973, is the year I came onto the Police Department,” Lewis said. “It should never have been on the list 40 years.”

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  • NO BOUQUETS OF ROSES AT ARVESON SHRINE

    Thu, February 14, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    The house located on the grounds of the “Saint Rose Arveson Shrine” at 36th Street and West Pikes Peak Ave. was declared uninhabitable Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. Officers from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak region including Sgt. Ryan McFadden, right, and Ben Schar wore hazard gear when going in the house. Photo by Carol Lawrence / The Gazette

    Rose Arveson

    On this day of love, happiness and bouquets of roses, there is none at the west side shrine once world famous for sending blessed miracle healing roses to the faithful.

    Rather than the scent of roses, the over-powering stench of human waste and death permeates the “Saint Rose E. Arveson Shrine” at 36th Street and West Pikes Peak Avenue.

    No longer do desperate people seeking cures wander the hillside shrine offering prayers at the statue of Christ or before the large etched mural of Rose Arveson, who died in August 1963, giving birth to a legend.

    Her daughters, Dorothy and Pauline, claimed a miracle occurred after her funeral when six roses placed on her casket wilted, died and were resurrected. They said the roses bloomed 10 days later.

    Then, they claimed, a petal from one of the roses cured a severely arthritic friend.

    Dorothy and Pauline spent the rest of their lives erecting the shrine and campaigning for the Catholic Church to declare her a saint due to her healing powers.

    The story of Rose was spread by tabloid newspapers, triggering pilgrimages from folks hoping to be healed of various diseases and afflictions.

     

    This etching of Rose Arveson was a centerpiece of a shrine built by her daughters, Dorothy and Pauline, who spent their lives trying to win sainthood for their mother.

    Over the years, the sisters claimed the spirit of “Little Saint Rose” had cured people of cancer, heart disease, AIDS and blindness.

    For those who couldn’t make the trip to Colorado Springs, the sisters shipped out roses blessed in their mother’s name. Roses went out by the tens of thousands to people around the world.

    But sainthood never came, officially, to Rose. Dorothy worked as an accountant from the modest family home she shared with Pauline.

    And as the sisters aged, their efforts to promote their mother and the shrine faded.

    The Shrine of Saint Rose E. Arveson was a mess on Feb. 13, 2013, and the stench was overwhelming near the house. Photo by Cary Leider Vogrin.

    The shrine took on a spooky quality in recent years. Weeds grew unchecked. The statues decayed. The elderly sisters were seldom seen by neighbors who  grew concerned as a stranger appeared. It was a man no one recognized, and he moved in with the women.

    Police were called to check the welfare of the women, but they were never allowed in the house. Same for Code Enforcement and Adult Protective Services.

    Readers called me in 2010 and I tried to talk to the sisters and the man, but they wouldn’t open the door.

    The Shrine of Saint Rose E. Arverson was not a welcoming place on Feb. 13, 2013. Beyond the “Beware of Dog” sign was a notice on the door declaring it unfit for human habitation. Photo by Cary Leider Vogrin.

    When officials finally did get inside recently, they were shocked at what they found. The house had become a toxic waste site, according to Ken Lewis, code enforcement administrator.

    His officers were with police Jan. 28 when, in response to neighbor complaints, they went to investigate horrible odors wafting from the house.

    Lewis said officers decided the overwhelming smell of death gave them probable cause to enter the house. So they crawled in a window and were stunned.

    “There were dead animals and human waste everywhere,” Lewis said. “The place was filthy. It’s one of the worst we’ve ever seen.”

    Officers from The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak region and code enforcement officials wore hazard suits as they cleared dead animals from a house located on the property of the Saint Rose Arveson Shrine at 36th St. and West Pikes Peak Avenuen on Jan. 28, 2013. Photo by Carol Lawrence / The Gazette

    Inside, they found 69-year-old William E. Schwartz, who appeared to be suffering a leg infection and had to be carried out, Lewis said.

    Then officers of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region went in, wearing hazard suits and facemasks, to rescue some cats living inside and clear out the carcasses of dead animals, Lewis said.

    Turns out, Pauline Arveson died in April 2008 at age 82 and Dorothy died in March 2011 at age 81 leaving Schwartz alone in the house.

    Statues on the grounds of the Shrine of Saint Rose E. Arveson are crumbling from neglect.

    “We’d been trying for a long time to get in the house,” Lewis said. “Dorothy almost let us in one time but she said she didn’t want to anger (Schwartz).”

    When Dorothy died, Lewis said, the first responders found her body on the porch because Schwartz didn’t want anyone in the house.

    I wondered what would become of the house and shrine and Schwartz.

    Lewis said his officers went back on Friday and condemned the place.

    “It’s a health hazard,” he said. “We put it on the dilapidated building list.”

    It’s so bad, he doesn’t believe the house can be saved.

    “It would require a biohazard cleanup,” he said.

    Lewis knows neighbors don’t want to be stuck with a rancid building, so he intends to start the process of asking the city attorney to go to court and ask for a receiver for the property, assuming there are no heirs to take control.

    “Somebody has to take responsibility for the property and take the house down,” Lewis said.

    It could take months, but Lewis said it will be a priority for his office because not much can happen until a receiver is appointed.

    As for Schwartz, Lewis said he remains hospitalized. And once healthy, he is facing three counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals, filed last week in El Paso County District Court, according to court documents.

    Looks like it will take another miracle to save Little Saint Rose’s shrine.

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  • O’BRIEN REMAINS PATRIARCH OF BLIGHT

    Wed, August 31, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Months after being warned to accelerate the pace of repairs, Joseph O'Brien has had 15 windows installed and some paint applied to the house at 715 N. 24th St. But Ken Lewis, city code enforcement administrator, said he hasn't done enough.

    Kevin Sutherland is learning an expensive lesson about property rights in Colorado Springs

    Because Joseph O’Brien has exercised his right to let his house sit and rot since it was condemned in 1973, Sutherland now finds it impossible to sell his own west-side cottage and move into a larger place as he and his wife await the birth of their first child. 

    “It is becoming a nightmare,” Sutherland said. 

    It’s a recurring nightmare, actually, for generations of neighbors of the O’Brien house at 715 N. 24th St., north of West Unitah Street

    O’Brien reigns as the patriarch of blight in the Springs, having presided over the decay of his family home, built in 1905. It is the longest condemned house in the city. By far. Did I mention 1973? 

    It’s hard to explain how it’s been ignored for so long. 

    Warped, stained plywood still covers much of the house, awaiting windows, siding and paint. Weeds and brush surround the condemned house. Neighbors are sick of waiting and say they can’t sell their houses because of the cancerous O’Brien property.

     

    Neighbors say Joseph O'Brien's rotting family home at 715 N. 24th St. is a shameful eyesore. Doors remain boarded up. Piles of dirt remain to be backfilled against the foundation. The front porch and stairs have been missing for decades.

    Neighbors have complained about it for decades. It was the subject of the very first Side Streets column on July 18, 2002, and several since. 

    Code enforcement officers have served their entire careers and retired with the O’Brien file still active. 

    It was “Exhibit A” when the City Council enacted a blight ordinance in 2006. 

    Still it sits. 

    Weeds and small trees grow tall amid scaffolding that has rusted in place. 

    Bare, warped plywood, stained from years of exposure to sun and rain, surrounds the house. 

    The very first Side Streets, on July 18, 2002, featured the Joseph O'Brien house as one of the worst in the city. Little has changed, even though the house helped inspire the City Council to pass a blight ordinance in 2006.

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    Neighbor Kevin Sutherland lives across the street and has this view of the condemned O'Brien house. Sutherland tried for months to sell his house but he said prospective buyers were scared off by the O'Brien house. This photo was taken in November 2010.

     Worse, another O’Brien-owned rental house next door is deteriorating, too. 

    Sutherland said every prospective buyer for his tidy little house across the street walked away when told the story of the O’Brien place.

    “As a homeowner, I want answers,” Sutherland said. “It’s hurting us. The property is an eyesore. 

    “What has happened to all the gusto city officials had to go after these blight kings?” 

    The gusto remains, said Ken Lewis, city code enforcement administrator. But enforcing the blight ordinance is tricky, requiring slow, deliberate steps. 

    This house, at 705 N. 24th St., is one of 10 properties owned by Joseph O'Brien, heir to the O'Brien Printing Co. on Colorado Springs' west side. It sits next door to another O'Brien property that has been condemned since 1973. It's starting to show signs of serious decay.

    And O’Brien has remained out of reach by doing just enough to the house to prevent code enforcers from taking possession of the property. 

    “Since we came down on him, he has put in 15 windows,” Lewis said. “He’s painted some of it. Actually, he’s done more in the last few months than he’s done in 10 years.” 

    But Lewis said it’s still not good enough and he’s poised to issue a summons against O’Brien and start assessing fines under the dilapidated building code. 

    “He needs to step it up,” Lewis said. “At this rate, it’s going to take him 10 years.” 

    Lewis wants the weeds mowed, mounds of dirt backfilled against the foundation, the house painted, doors, windows and a porch installed. 

    That sounds good, but I can’t help wondering if the Sutherland’s baby will grow up, get married move away before the O’Brien house is ever finished.

    Follow this link to a November 2010 blog I wrote about the O’Brien house.

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  • IVYWILD IN THE TRENCHES IN BATTLE AGAINST BLIGHT

    Wed, May 11, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Ivywild is a neighborhood south of downtown Colorado Springs and northeast of the Broadmoor area.

    Ivywild is a hard-luck neighborhood south of downtown Colorado Springs where folks have been struggling to combat encroaching blight and crime.

    It’s been a working-class neighborhood for years. But recently it has suffered as a home to drug dealers, prostitutes, other criminals and homeless people.

    It’s elementary school has closed and businesses have left as the neighborhood deteriorated.

    In recent weeks, Ivywild has been declared blighted and qualified for an urban renewal designation, which would help spur economic revitalization by allowing tax revenue from future development to be used for public improvements.

    One improvement residents want is the elimination of homeless camps like this one at South Cascade and St. Elmo avenues.

    This pretty little creekside meadow actually is a homeless camp at South Cascade and St. Elmo avenues in Ivywild, south of downtown Colorado Springs.

    The property is among 25 or so owned by On the Ivy, a company founded by developer Mark Morley, downtown club owner Sam Guadagnoli and real estate broker Robert Aertker.

    On the Ivy amassed about 12 acres of land in Ivywild along Cheyenne Creek in 2007 with plans to develop an upscale urban region similar to Cherry Creek in Denver.

    A closer look at a homeless camp in Ivywild, on property owned by On the Ivy development group. City code enforcement officers have been trying to close the camp since February.

    But the economy went bust and all the big plans were shelved. Meanwhile, On the Ivy’s property in Ivywild continued to deteriorate.

    Neighbors are upset because the homeless have dragged a lot of trash to the site and build fires in the brush.

    Colorado Springs Code Enforcement officers have tried to clean up homeless camps in Ivywild, but Administrator Ken Lewis said On the Ivy has not cooperated with his team’s efforts.

    In fact, Lewis said On the Ivy mostly ignores requests to cooperate.

    Now, a small group of business owners including Martin Harper, a certified public accountant, is taking action. They are planning to clean up the worst of On the Ivy’s overgrown lots and try to keep the homeless from flopping there.

    Neighbors are tired of the trash dragged to the area by homeless and they fear the fires they build at the camp.

    And Lewis said he’s going to dedicate a couple of his team to working with Ivywild to address the blight.

    Here's a view of On the Ivy's vacant lot at South Cascade and St. Elmo avenues in Ivywild. The photo is from FlashEarth.com.

    I’ve written about Ivywild a couple times in recent years. Here’s a piece I wrote in 2009 after the Ivywild school closed. And this is the blog that accompanied the column.

    A more controversial column was related to racist covenants filed with the original Ivywild development plans and attached to every property. Here’s the blog for that column with photos of the covenants.

    For an in-depth story about developer plans for Ivywild, I recommend this excellent piece, published Aug. 3, 2008, by Gazette business writer extraodinaire Rich Laden.

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  • JOSEPH O’BRIEN: BARON OF BLIGHT IN COLORADO SPRINGS

    Wed, November 10, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    How would you like to live across the street from this house?  

    Joseph O'Brien's family home at 715 N. 24th St. has been condemned since 1973. Neighbors are sick of looking at it and suffering depressed property values due to it.

    This house at 715 N. 24th St., on the corner of Dale Street on Colorado Springs‘ west side is owned by Joseph O’Brien of O’Brien Printing. It has been sitting and rotting since it was condemned since 1973.  

      

    You read that correctly. The house was condemned when Richard Nixon was still in the White House. It has been a blight on the neighborhood ever since. That’s 37 years and counting.  

    It was built in 1905 by O’Brien’s grandmother. His son, Glen, has promised the city repeatedly to repair the house. And he has done considerable work, at times, on the structure.  

    In this photo, you can see the concrete basement he poured after jacking the structure up. Then he built a large addition on the back with the long, slanting roof that overhangs the original peak of the house.  

      

    You can also see, through the shoulder-high weeds, the rusting scaffolding that has stood for a decade or more since activity lurched to a halt.  

    For the past three years, neighbor Kevin Sutherland has had a front-porch view of the mess. He’s called the city, like many neighbors, wondering why something isn’t done to enforce the city’s 2006 blight ordinance and require O’Brien to repair the house.   

      

    The south side of the house is not much different. A hand-built ladder leans against the wall.  

      

    Inside the house, Glen O’Brien has amassed building materials such as doors and wood for his project. But mostly they’ve just sat, gathering dust. O’Brien did upgrade the electrical service to the house. But much more work remains.  

    In 2005, the O’Brien house became “exhibit A” in efforts to get a blight ordinance written into city codes. Those efforts finally succeeded in 2006. 

     But Ken Lewis, code enforcement administrator, said he’s been frustrated in his efforts to get the courts to take seriously the criminal summons his officers write for blight violations. 

     

    Lewis vows the O’Brien house is going to be repaired now, or else. He has given O’Brien until Friday to start actively repairing it or face a summons, fine and more aggressive action. 

    The O’Briens are an old Colorado Springs family. Joseph O’Brien’s father,  William P. O’Brien, operated O’Brien Typesetting and Printing and amassed many properties in the city. 

    His holdings included a 10-acre parcel he bought in 1962 on South 21st Street now known as the Gold Hill Mesa subdivision.

     The property included the old Golden Cycle Mill office building, the mill smokestack – a westside landmark – and a crusher building. 

    The printing business is on 19th Street, not far from Uintah Gardens Shopping Center. It has suffered the same fate at the house on 24th Street. It is overgrown with weeds and its 10 acres or so includes a collection of junk cars and other things. 

       

    If this house sounds familiar, you are a longtime Side Streets reader.

    In fact, I featured this house in my very first Side Streets column on July 18, 2002. And I wrote about it again in 2006 as pressure mounted on the city to combat blight in neighborhoods.

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  • THE GRASS IS ALWAYS MEANER ON THE CITY RIGHT-OF-WAY

    Sun, August 15, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments

    Fred Van Antwerp wants to walk his neighborhood in peace and out of the way of traffic.

    In the Broadmoor area of Colorado Springs where he lives, that’s a trick because there are no sidewalks and few curbs and gutters.

    Fred Van Antwerp stands on the spot where his property ends and the city's 9-foot public right-of-way begins outside his Broadmoor neighborhood home.

    So Fred walks on the grass along the streets. Lots of people in his neighborhood do the same thing.

    In many places, as on Oak Avenue in the photo above, folks respect the public 9-foot right-of-way that runs along every street in Colorado Springs. Their landscaping and fences set back from the road.

    But more and more homeowners are laying claim to the right-of-way, Fred says.

    It’s getting hard to stay out of the street because he encounters so many fences, or large boulders or hysterical homeowners all intent on shooing him off “their” property.

    Some even erect walls and thick shrubs to keep people off the right-of-way.

    Often, the landscaping looks very nice. But is it legal for homeowners to take control of the right-of-way?

    No, says Ken Lewis, city code enforcement administrator.

    He said the adjacent property owners are responsible for maintaining the adjacent right-of-way in what the city code calls an “aesthetically pleasing” manner. But they don’t own it and can’t keep people off it.

    Some even try to control the street in front of their homes. They put up fences to discourage walkers from straying on the grass and motorists from parking on the streets.

    Nice try. But definitely not legal.

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  • NEIGHBORS CONDEMN OWNER OF BLIGHTED HOUSE

    Wed, April 7, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Residents of the tidy Golf Course Acres neighborhood are fed up with Fire Hendricks and all her excuses for not fixing up her house, which was condemned by the Colodrado Springs Code Enforcement officers in 1998.

    The house is owned by Fire Hendricks, 72, who says she bought it in 1965. It was condemned after emergency crews responding to a call for help were shocked at what they saw inside.

    Ken Lewis, city code enforcement administrator, said Hendricks is a hoarder who filled the house with junk. Standing water in the basement led to a dangerous mold problem throughout the house.

    Over the years, the house has deteriorated from neglect. Windows are broken allowing tree limbs to grow into the house.

     The roof is collapsing, holes are covered with plastic. But they can’t keep the squirrels, raccoons and other wildlife out of the house.

    Neighbors want the city to force Hendricks to do something with the house. Those who have been inside say it’s too far gone to repair. They say it should be razed. They’ve even offered to buy it from Hendricks, but she refuses to sell. Here’s a view of the neighborhood from FlashEarth.com.

    The El Paso County Assessor’s Office values the house at about $57,000.

    Hendricks said she has volunteers lined up to roof and paint the house if she can get materials.

    She also needs to empty the house to allow for repairs. But she said she has no where to put all the stuff inside. Hendricks said she recently downsized her possessions from 11 storage lockers to 9 lockers. She said her belongs are too valuable just to give away.

    Hendricks said she makes $238 a month in Social Security as well as some unemployment benefits.

    Lewis said his officers have done everything they can to help her. But he said she refuses to cooperate. The city’s blight ordinance calls for his agency to start fining her $500 every three months until she comes into compliance.

    If she still refuses to comply, she could face criminal charges and eventually the city could raze the structure.

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