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La Plata County considers suing Vallecito park

By Chuck Slothower Herald staff writer

La Plata County is considering legal action against the owners of a Vallecito RV park, three years after first notifying them of alleged building and land-use code violations.

County code enforcement officers have “red tagged” seven rental cabins at Five Branches Camper Park to prohibit human occupancy. County commissioners voted Oct. 8 to authorize legal action if necessary, but county attorneys had not filed a lawsuit by Tuesday.

“We really are hopeful that we can resolve all the situations up there at Five Branches, but first and foremost we need to make sure the members of the public are protected,” said Adam Smith, a county attorney.

Five Branches Camper Park is owned by Bob and Jan Davis through 5 Branches LLC. The RV park at 4677 County Road 501A has 91 RV spaces, 17 tent sites and nine cabins on 27 acres lining the east shore of Vallecito Reservoir.

Five Branches is open seasonally; it closed for the year Sept. 8 and will open in May. The park hosts about 3,000 camper-nights per year.

The alleged violations center on construction and remodeling that did not go through the county’s building permit process. Several structures, including a stable and a bathroom, were converted into rental cabins, according to county documents.

County documents allege violations of codes that govern building without a permit, changes of use and unsafe structures. County officials did not detail why the buildings are unsafe.

Shawn Davlin, the Davises’ Durango lawyer, declined to answer questions, but he said in an email, “There are two sides to every story and ... Five Branches welcomes the chance to tell their side of what has occurred. However, it is not appropriate at the present time or in the forum of a newspaper article to tell Five Branches’ version of how events have unfolded with the threat of litigation being made by the county.”

Davlin added, “Five Branches is working diligently to bring the alleged violations into compliance.”

County officials first sent a letter to Five Branches outlining several alleged violations in 2010. The matter laid apparently untouched until February, when county code enforcers reviewed the case file and issued another letter demanding compliance. Inspectors subsequently visited the park in May.

Code enforcers then set a Dec. 31 deadline for Five Branches to comply.

Smith told county commissioners Five Branches is not likely to meet the deadline.

“They have indicated to us they have no intention to comply with that deadline,” Smith said in the Oct. 8 meeting.

Davlin also spoke before the county commissioners, saying code enforcers had been inconsistent, and suggesting Five Branches could counter-sue.

“We’re certainly not welcoming litigation and hope it is held off,” he said. But, Davlin added, “We have a couple of counterclaims that are certainly ripe.”

The county rarely uses its power to cite buildings as unsafe, but Smith said Monday the aggressive approach is warranted in Five Branches’ case.

“A lot of those additions and alterations were done without going through the requisite permitting process,” he said. “That’s putting the public pretty seriously at risk.”

cslothower@durangoherald.com

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