Ariz. couple, city officials settle suit

Thursday, April 12, 2012 3:58 PM

A part-time Durango couple have settled a $3 million civil-rights lawsuit they filed against city officials.

Under terms of the agreement, Tony and Linda Hollars, of Tucson, Ariz., will receive no monetary damages.

The city agreed to treat the Hollarses “no differently than any other citizen,” according to the settlement agreement. And the Hollarses acknowledged “they will be subject to the same rules, regulations, ordinances and code provisions as any other property owner or citizen.”

“It was much to do about very little, quite honestly,” said David Smith, city attorney.

The federal lawsuit, filed Nov. 23, 2010, in Arizona, claimed city officials “intentionally used and abused the building permit process” to delay construction of the couple’s dream home at 359 West Park Ave., which overlooks the Animas River in Durango.

The 12-page complaint named four defendants: city planners Nicol Killian, Vicki Vandergrift and Greg Hoch, as well as City Councilor Anita “Sweetie” Marbury.

The couple’s Tucson-based attorney, Thom Cope, said the parties worked through their differences.

“It amounts to people having said their piece and moving on,” he said. “Everybody just kind of agreed to walk away.”

Both parties will pay their own attorney fees.

The Hollarses did not answer the door this week at their Durango home when a Herald reporter stopped by seeking comment. A maintenance worker next door said the Hollarses are typically in Arizona this time of year.

The 3,080-square-foot house has three bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms.

The Hollarses accused city officials of giving them a hard time while going through the building process because they were from out of state. Treating a nonresident differently than a resident is a violation of the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, they said.

According to the lawsuit, the Hollarses applied for exceptions to the building code and were denied on multiple occasions before being issued a special-use permit in July 2008.

Four months later, city planners allegedly asked building inspectors to issue a “red tag” stop-work order that halts all work and repeals all previous project approvals in the event that things aren’t built according to plan.

The Hollarses claimed they were largely in compliance with the permits, and they should have been given a chance to comply before the red tag was issued.

They said a neighbor, Doug Lashley, a former city councilor, faced fewer roadblocks when building a similar project.

Lashley said Thursday he worked with the Design-Review Board and stuck to the plan for which he was approved. It took about 1½ years to obtain the permit approvals, but the process worked, he said.

“It was fairly clear to me early on that he (Tony Hollars) took an adversarial approach,” Lashley said.

The Hollarses claimed they faced discrimination from the city staff for being out-of-towners and accused Vandergrift of saying: “You people think you can come to Durango and do what you want. You may have won the battle, but not the (expletive) war.”

They accused Marbury of standing before City Council and saying, “He lives out of town. We live here; we own Durango.”

The statement showed “prejudice” and “denigrated” his right to live in Durango, they said.

Efforts to reach Marbury on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.

The couple eventually received a certificate of occupancy.

The couple’s attorney said they would like to become full-time Durango residents.