BISBEE — A towering house on Laundry Hill that has been the object of contention and annoyance for a neighbor who’s been fighting its design and construction for more than a year was built legally, a judge has decided.
That means the saga surrounding the house built by Jon Sky has finally settled now that Cochise County Superior Court Judge Timothy Dickerson issued a decision about the residence last week.
“The court finds that there is no genuine dispute of any material fact,” Dickerson wrote at the beginning of his nine-page decision.
Sky, a former member of the city’s Design Review Board who was removed from the panel after he pleaded no-contest to attempted aggravated assault recently, finished building the house in late 2018 and moved in with his family in January 2019.
The house quickly drew the ire of close neighbor Helen Ingram, who lives about 70 feet from Sky’s residence, the judge’s decision states.
Ingram has decried not only what she claimed were various code violations surrounding the construction of the structure, but also the aesthetics of the house, calling it “massively overbuilt,” and blocking the surrounding views.
But while he agreed with some of Ingram’s points, Dickerson criticized the plaintiff’s failure to exhaust all of her options to appeal the construction of the house, and said she waited too long to complain about it when she had initially realized a month prior that construction was going forward. Ingram filed her civil suits in late January 2019 and February 2019, after Sky and his family had already moved into the house.
Additionally, Ingram’s claim that Sky’s house is three feet taller than allowed by code was viewed by the judge as a disagreement between the two parties concerning the point at the structure where the height was measured.
During the spring and summer of 2018, the Design Review Board approved several permits for the demolition and cleanup of the project, as well as the “height, size and design of the structure proposed by Sky,” the judge’s decision states. Sky was planning on adding a second floor.
At one point, though, it was discovered that the existing structure was in poor condition and could not be built upon or salvaged.
Sky then tore down the old house and began building a new one. Dickerson’s decision states Sky never sought the Design Review Board’s blessing to rebuild, but said Sky acted on the approval of Bisbee Building Inspector Joel Ward.
Ingram began complaining in August 2018 when she realized Sky was rebuilding a new, two-story wooden house. But Sky’s attorney said at a hearing before Dickerson in January that Ingram had taken her claims to the wrong board. She complained to the Design Review Board when she should have gone to the city’s Board of Adjustments, attorney John MacKinnon said.
Ingram filed two civil complaints — one of them an amended version — claiming Sky failed to submit a site plan, and he didn’t provide neighbors with notice of plans to build an addition or new building construction and the orientation of the rooftop.
At the January hearing, Ingram’s lawyer, Brian Laird, complained among other issues that the residence was three feet higher than allowed by code.
Laird told the judge that Sky’s house is 29 feet tall, rather than the 26 feet allowed by code. MacKinnon agreed, but said the house is 29 feet from the foundation to the peak and 26 feet from the first floor to the peak. Laird argued that the house violates the method used by the city to measure the height of a structure.
“It’s massively out of character for the neighborhood,” Laird said of Sky’s residence. “It’s massively overbuilt. They (the neighbors) are living in the shadow of this massive structure.”
MacKinnon agreed that Sky’s house is “overbuilt,” but said it was built legally.
Dickerson said that in hindsight, Sky should have sought Ward’s written approval when he realized he had to build a new place.
“It would have been more businesslike for Mr. Ward to have issued a written order approving the increased scope of Sky’s project or to require Sky to return to the DRB for approval ... ,” the judge stated in his decision.
But Dickerson said Ingram waited too long to lodge her complaints.
“ ... but in balancing the equities, it is an inescapable fact that Ingram watched the construction of Sky’s new house, which she believed violated the Zoning Code, with knowledge that the City was not going to stop or modify the project, but did not appeal to the BOA until after September 5, 2018, and did not file this lawsuit until after construction was completed and the new house was occupied,” the judge wrote.