Don Bell walks near the condemned Southridge condos on Anna Court where he hopes something will be done soon since his property values are being affected. He and his family own the condos in the background to the right which are also on Anna Court

Nearly eight months after a fire destroyed an apartment in a decrepit Orchard Mesa complex, the blackened remains of furniture still lie in a heap beneath the charred, melted siding.

Brown weeds dot the landscape. Tires are scattered across the parking lot. An assortment of trash ranging from an upside-down couch and a crumpled metal door to a vacuum cleaner and a child’s car seat litters dirt patches. A loose piece of metal roofing flaps in the wind.

About the only thing that has changed at the Southridge Condominiums is that no one lives here anymore.

The owner and landlord of the complex at 109 Anna Court, father and son Russ and Chad Olson, are in violation of the International Property Maintenance Code because they haven’t repaired or torn down the apartments.

Yet Mesa County has taken no punitive action against them. In fact, taxpayers are on the hook for the $4,000 the county spent to board up the doors and windows of the apartments because the Olsons failed to do it themselves.

“There has been absolutely nothing done over there,” said Don Bell, whose family owns five adjacent townhomes he claims he’s had trouble selling because of the eyesore created by the Olsons’ apartments.

County officials say they have hesitated because the property appears to be close to selling and has several liens filed against it.

“Obviously it’s in the best interests of the county to get the building rebuilt than have the county demolish it and bear the expense for it,” said Bob Lee, director of the Mesa County Building Department.

An overloaded power strip sparked a fire Feb. 18 that destroyed one of the 24 units at Southridge Condominiums, leaving a mother and her two girls, ages 6 and 13 days, without a home. The mother,
Trisha Plumb, said one of the items plugged into the power strip was a space heater she was forced to use because Russ Olson didn’t respond to her requests to repair her broken furnace.

Several residents told similar stories about Russ Olson not answering their complaints about an array of structural and mechanical problems. The county condemned half the units in the days leading up to the fire and was preparing to condemn the other units when the fire happened.

Russ Olson told The Daily Sentinel he abandoned the apartments because he ran out of time and energy. He also claimed he feared some of the tenants, alleging they abused methamphetamine and threatened him and his wife.

Lee said last week that the county condemned the rest of the complex at the beginning of March. Under the International Property Maintenance Code, the Olsons had 10 days to vacate the property, 30 days to board it up and 180 days to clean it up or demolish it. Any violation of the condemnation order is a misdemeanor criminal offense.

The Olsons, though, have done nothing with the Southridge Condominiums in the wake of the fire.

The county hired a contractor in April to board up the building, and the cost of that work — about $4,000 — will be assessed to the property. Lee said he doesn’t think the Olsons have paid the bill.

Meanwhile, the 180-day period in which the Olsons were supposed to take action on the complex expired last month.

“At this point, the county has not determined the next course of action,” Lee said.

That’s because, according to Lee, a group from Denver is attempting to purchase the property. A member of that group, Paul Parker, confirmed interest in purchasing the land and vowed to restore it.

“We fully intend to save that project and clean it up,” Parker told the Sentinel this week.

Lee estimated there are 20 to 25 liens against the property. He said demolishing the apartment complex could cost $100,000, money the county is reluctant to spend because it may not be able to recoup it.

“There may not be any money left in the property,” Lee said.

Russ Olson did not return a call seeking comment.

Bell said he is concerned the abandoned apartments have become a haven for crime and a potentially dangerous playground for neighborhood children. He said people have broken into some of the units, and kids have been chased off from playing around the apartments.

Bell said five people who expressed interest in buying one of his townhomes told him they backed away because of the condition of the Olsons’ apartments. He also said one of the townhomes sat vacant for a month and a half before someone rented it, an anomaly in the tight local rental market.

“The first thing they see is that junky place right there,” he said.


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