Kevin Sutherland is learning an expensive lesson about property rights in Colorado Springs.
Because Joseph O’Brien has exercised his right to let his house sit and rot since it was condemned in 1973, Sutherland now finds it impossible to sell his own west-side cottage and move into a larger place as he and his wife await the birth of their first child.
“It is becoming a nightmare,” Sutherland said.
It’s a recurring nightmare, actually, for generations of neighbors of the O’Brien house at 715 N. 24th St., north of West Unitah Street.
O’Brien reigns as the patriarch of blight in the Springs, having presided over the decay of his family home, built in 1905. It is the longest condemned house in the city. By far. Did I mention 1973?
It’s hard to explain how it’s been ignored for so long.
- Warped, stained plywood still covers much of the house, awaiting windows, siding and paint. Weeds and brush surround the condemned house. Neighbors are sick of waiting and say they can’t sell their houses because of the cancerous O’Brien property.
Neighbors have complained about it for decades. It was the subject of the very first Side Streets column on July 18, 2002, and several since.
Code enforcement officers have served their entire careers and retired with the O’Brien file still active.
It was “Exhibit A” when the City Council enacted a blight ordinance in 2006.
Still it sits.
Weeds and small trees grow tall amid scaffolding that has rusted in place.
Bare, warped plywood, stained from years of exposure to sun and rain, surrounds the house.
Worse, another O’Brien-owned rental house next door is deteriorating, too.
Sutherland said every prospective buyer for his tidy little house across the street walked away when told the story of the O’Brien place.
“As a homeowner, I want answers,” Sutherland said. “It’s hurting us. The property is an eyesore.
“What has happened to all the gusto city officials had to go after these blight kings?”
The gusto remains, said Ken Lewis, city code enforcement administrator. But enforcing the blight ordinance is tricky, requiring slow, deliberate steps.
And O’Brien has remained out of reach by doing just enough to the house to prevent code enforcers from taking possession of the property.
“Since we came down on him, he has put in 15 windows,” Lewis said. “He’s painted some of it. Actually, he’s done more in the last few months than he’s done in 10 years.”
But Lewis said it’s still not good enough and he’s poised to issue a summons against O’Brien and start assessing fines under the dilapidated building code.
“He needs to step it up,” Lewis said. “At this rate, it’s going to take him 10 years.”
Lewis wants the weeds mowed, mounds of dirt backfilled against the foundation, the house painted, doors, windows and a porch installed.
That sounds good, but I can’t help wondering if the Sutherland’s baby will grow up, get married move away before the O’Brien house is ever finished.
Follow this link to a November 2010 blog I wrote about the O’Brien house.