By Mark Esper
An architect’s evaluation of the space behind Smedley’s Ice Cream Parlor that is being used as a sled-making shop found the town incorrectly applied zoning rules to the facility and that the sled-making shop is in fact compatible with downtown zoning
The report also found that the minor renovations done last year should not have required a building permit and that no “change of use from a building code standpoint” occurred.
The report from Reynolds & Associates Architecture and Engineering of Durango did find a door to the shop didn’t meet a required one-hour fire rating.
The shop’s owner, Paul Zimmerman, said that door has been replaced.
“The door is there,” Zimmerman said Monday.
Town building and zoning officials had cited the shop for not getting a building permit and for not being in compliance with downtown zoning after a small sled-making shop was set up in the space last fall.
Town officials also demanded an architect’s review of the space to make sure it is compliant with current building codes, citing an alleged change of use.
Zimmerman has since filed a lawsuit against the town challenging those findings.
The dispute has generated statewide publicity, with town officials facing criticism for their enforcement actions.
The report by architect Tracy Reynolds found that the sled-making operation is in fact compatible with the shop space’s F-1 occupancy rating.
Reynolds noted the shop had been formerly used for printing and publishing.
“There is no change in use from a building code standpoint,” Reynolds reported.
Reynolds said code provisions regarding “hazardous occupancies” are not applicable since the shop’s quantities of combustible or hazardous products are way below the volume needed to trigger that concern.
And Reynolds said town officials erred in declaring the shop to be a manufacturing operation rather than an “arts and crafts” outfit.
“It would appear to me that the sled shop fits within the requirements for an arts and crafts studio or shop,” Reynolds stated in his report. “My observations of this space definitely appeared ‘low impact.’
“The use of the space for the sled shop seems to be a good fit with the character of the downtown,” Reynolds said, adding that the shop, accessed from the alley, “is not configured to reasonably function for any type of retail, business or publicly accessed space.”
Reynolds also said the town was wrong when it issued a stop-work order on Oct. 1, demanding a building permit for minor renovations.
“Based on the town’s requirements, a building permit should not have been required to erect the sheet-plastic separation for the finishing area, since the work did not affect life-safety or the structural integrity of the building, and cost less than $500 to construct,” Reynolds said.
Meanwhile an e-mail sent by San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay questioned the abilities of the town and county’s building inspector, Dee Jaramillo, in light of the controversy regarding the sled shop.
“Frankly I am unsure of the building inspector’s skill set — specifically his understanding of complicated codes and his ability to communicate both verbally and in writing with his clients,” McKay wrote in a message to town and county officials.
“I believe the town and county may be headed towards both legal and financial difficulties with our present situation and I am concerned about future projects as well,” McKay wrote.
He suggested hiring a consultant to assess the town and county building codes and enforcement processes.
Jaramillo, in a letter to the Town Council, complained that McKay’s e-mail was “personally and professional libelous” and “breeches disciplinary action protocol.”
He also claimed that “Pete McKay’s e-mail further violated my right to work in an environment free of harassment, intimidation and verbal abuse.”
Mayor Terry Kerwin, in a response to McKay’s e-mail, complained that Mountain Boy Sledworks owner Brice Hoskin, who is leasing the small shop space from Zimmerman, “has attempted to win in the court of public opinion and we in the town government have kept from responding in kind.”
Kerwin told McKay that Hoskin “has evidently won you over in that you believe Dee (Jaramillo) and (town and county planning director) Adam (Sickmiller) are incorrect. I feel you have done your employees a great disservice.”
“We have followed the law and Brice (Hoskin) and the Zimmermans have still failed to comply,” Kerwin said.
Zimmerman, meanwhile, is looking forward to getting beyond this disagreement.
He said the architect’s report backs up his position in the dispute, and he noted he has applied for a zoning change for the shop space that would make it acceptable for “manufacturing,” even though he feels the zoning change isn’t necessary.
Zimmerman said his attorney, Paul Sunderland, and the town’s attorney, Jeffrey Robbins, have agreed to a legal cease-fire for the time being.
“Right now there is a stay on the whole thing that Paul Sunderland and Jeff Robbins agreed upon for three months,” Zimmerman said.
He said the lawsuit challenging the town’s zoning rules would be dropped “as soon as everything is resolved to our satisfaction.
“As soon as the zoning and everything is taken care of to where we’re OK, then we’ll repeal the court action,” Zimmerman said.
The San Juan Regional Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, Jan. 26, on the proposed zoning change. That hearing will be held at 7 p.m. at the county courthouse.
Town and county Planning Director Adam Sickmiller said Wednesday that he thinks that a resolution is in sight.
“Spot zoning is not an ideal solution, but this seems to be a good option until we are able to look at the town codes after we finish the master plan,” Sickmiller said.
“Hopefully within a couple weeks we’ll be all done,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t know what you’ll be putting in the newspaper after that …”