Land-use violations investigated
Mesa County and the Ute Water Conservancy District are pursuing a criminal investigation and possible legal action against a property owner who allegedly violated several components of the county’s land-development code and illegally tapped into a water-distribution line.
County officials say 48-year-old Michael Wagner resolved many of the problems on four tracts of land he owns north of Interstate 70 and west of 32 Road. But several significant issues remain outstanding, including allegations that Wagner illegally subdivided a 40-acre parcel and siphoned water from a Ute Water line after being denied inclusion in the domestic water provider’s district a few years ago.
“My goal is to disband all of this,” Tony Piotrowski, manager of the county’s Code Compliance Services Division, said of Wagner’s various violations of county code. Piotrowski has met with and sent a number of notices of violation to Wagner over the last few months.
Wagner couldn’t be reached last week to comment for this story.
The probe into Wagner’s actions comes as the county considers whether to enact measures aimed at preserving views of Mount Garfield, one of the Grand Valley’s most notable landmarks.
Wagner owns four properties within the so-called Mount Garfield plan area at 3110, 3178, 3190 and 3196 North Interstate 70 Frontage Road. His primary residence is at 3190 N. I-70 Frontage Road. The other parcels are in foreclosure, according to county records.
The county began looking into how Wagner was using his properties in July after Ute Water filed a police report, and a person who was living on one of the parcels contacted the county to inquire whether his occupation was legal, Piotrowski said.
After conducting a site visit in July and looking into county records, code enforcement officers found:
Wagner had split the 40-acre parcel at 3190 N. I-70 Frontage Road without applying for a subdivision through the county Planning Department. The subdivision created a 5.9-acre parcel that Wagner leased to a woman, who, until recently, was living in a mobile home on the property, according to Piotrowski.
Wagner conveyed the 40-acre parcel into two tax parcels by quit claim deeds he signed and submitted last year.
Five mobile homes spread among the four properties. None were approved by the county. The code allows only one home per 35 acres in the agricultural forestry transitional zone district, the zoning that covers Wagner’s parcels.
In addition, none of the mobile homes was approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Several septic tanks hooked up to the mobile homes and being used without county approval.
A number of the properties had five or six unapproved campgrounds operating on them.
Appliances, furniture and other junk accumulating outside Wagner’s home.
Piotrowski said Wagner has removed the septic tanks and disbanded the campgrounds. The junk issue is scheduled to go before the Mesa County Commission for potential legal action Monday, but Piotrowski said he plans to tell commissioners that action likely isn’t necessary because Wagner has cleaned up the property.
Multiple violations have yet to be addressed, though. Piotrowski said four of the five illegal mobile homes remain on Wagner’s land. And Wagner still has to backtrack on the illegal subdivision.
In addition, law enforcement is investigating allegations that Wagner stole water from a Ute Water distribution line.
Ute Water spokesman Joe Burtard said crews performing routine maintenance on the line in June found a brass fitting attached to a valve within a vault. The fitting reduced down to a quarter-inch line that fed a nearby storage container.
Burtard said he didn’t know how long Ute Water’s line had been tapped into or the size of the storage container. He said Wagner applied for inclusion in the district in 2008 but was denied by the district’s board of directors because there are no plans for growth in the area.
Ute Water removed the brass connection and filed a theft and trespassing report with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, identifying Wagner as the suspect. Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said an investigation is ongoing.
Wagner’s properties lay within a series of barren, undulating adobe hills that define much of the Mount Garfield plan area, which stretches north of I-70 between 30 Road and 36 Road. While many residents may think of that topography as a public playland for motorbikes and other off-road enthusiasts, more than two-thirds of the land — roughly 45 parcels — is privately owned, according to county Land Use and Development Division Director Linda Dannenberger.
Long-range plans call for industrial and commercial development to front I-70. But that kind of building is years down the road because the area lacks basic infrastructure, such as roads, sewer and water. In the meantime, the county is looking to implement interim development guidelines.
County officials received more than 450 responses to a recent online survey asking residents’ interest in preserving views of Mount Garfield and opinions about how strict development guidelines should be. More than 70 percent said protecting views was important or extremely important. More than 73 percent said development regulations should be somewhat or much more strict for the area than they are now.
Dannenberger said the county could consider standards that require earthtone-colored building and minimize outdoor storage.
“We want to try to develop something that will address everyone’s needs and concerns,” she said.