Fight over renovations lands in court - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Fight over renovations lands in court

Town officials holding a grudge, landowner says

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Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:02 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

In a lawsuit filed in Pima County Superior Court, a plaintiff claims that Oro Valley officials denied him due process by hiding, modifying and refusing to review building plans he submitted.

The complaint comes from John Fazio, director of the church and reception hall at Reflections at the Buttes, 9800 N. Oracle Road. He is seeking unspecified damages.

According to Fazio, town officials have held a long-term grudge against him and saw a chance at revenge when he applied to have a portion of the facility remodeled.

“Their egos are offended,” Fazio said of town officials.

The perceived affront dates back to 1997, when Fazio bought an Oro Valley property near the Hilton El Conquistador with the goal of developing houses there.

Around the same time, Oro Valley bought a portion of Cañada Hills Water Company. After the purchase, town water officials realized that a previously unknown water line bisected Fazio’s land.

To gain access to their pipeline, the town had little choice but to condemn a portion of Fazio’s property to gain access to the line beneath.

The condemnation case ended with the town taking the desired portion of Fazio’s property, at a cost. The court ordered the town to pay Fazio $319,000 in damages for the loss of his property.

Fazio claims town officials have lamented the loss ever since and tried to exact revenge when he sought to make changes to the Buttes. Town legal officials deny the charge, chalking the dispute up to a simple code-compliance issue.

“It’s not a vendetta — it’s enforcing building and safety codes,” said Tobin Rosen, Oro Valley town attorney.

Fazio claims he can prove the town obfuscated his requests and sought to put him out of business.

In 2000, Fazio’s corporation purchased the Buttes property, and shortly after applied for a certificate of occupancy with the hopes of opening for business. The town denied the application.

Near the same time, Fazio submitted plans to renovate the residential section of the building. Fazio said the building had previously been allowed dual uses — one section as a church and reception area, and the other as a residence. He said no renovations were made to the church portions of the property.

Still, Fazio said, town officials claimed the modifications constituted a change of use at the property and would not issue the certificate of occupancy. Without the certificate, a business was not permitted; only residential uses were allowed.

“He would have been issued a business license if his building was code compliant,” Rosen said.

In court documents, Fazio’s lawyer wrote that town officials refused to review plans or conduct inspections of the Buttes even though the dual usage was permitted and all modifications met Oro Valley’s code.

The complaint names former building safety employee Terry Vosler, claiming he changed the plans that Fazio had turned in for review and later hid them under his desk.

“During the plan review process, Mr. Vosler modified the plans, deleting references contained on the plans indicating that that portion of the building used as a church would remain unchanged,” according to the complaint.

Vosler’s intention, the allegation continues, was to set a trap whereby it would later be claimed that the building was only a house and not a business.

Vosler, who no longer works for the town and lives out of state, denied claims that he or other town employees altered the documents. In fact, he said if the town saved the original paperwork, the real story would become apparent.

“It’s real clear who altered them — he did,” Vosler said of Fazio.

Fazio denied the charge, asking, “What motivation would I have to do that?”

In 2007, after seven years of discussions, Fazio was awarded a certificate of occupancy for the Buttes. But the furnishing of the certificate after all those years, while welcome, has Fazio baffled. He said no further modifications were made to building that would have changed its status, at least in the view of town officials, from non-compliant to compliant.

“There was no change made — and I’ve got the paperwork to show it,” Fazio said.

Town officials have yet to file an official response to Fazio’s July 2 complaint.

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