Loveland Councilman Larry Heckel’s ability to seek re-election to Loveland’s City Council may be sinking faster than the floors in Harvest Gold Village homes he built in northwest Loveland. In May of last year the Harvest Gold Village Homeowners Association managed by MSI Management in Loveland filed a lawsuit in Larimer County District Court alleging negligence by Heckel in the construction of their homes.
The lawsuit includes Loveland political insider and frequent council campaign contributor Richard Coulson of Coulson Excavating Inc. and other local contractors drawn into the suit as third party defendants. Given the lack of critical news coverage in the local media, the lawsuit has not hampered Heckel’s appetite to continue constructing homes in Loveland for unsuspecting home buyers unaware of the allegations or ongoing litigation.
According to an internal city memo called “The Wensing Wire” obtained by LovelandPolitics, Larry Heckel is now seeking to change the zoning on lots Heckel owns on Boise Avenue in Loveland’s Seven Lakes area to build more single family residences in the community. The document states,
“Greg [Greg George] and Bob met with Larry Heckel concerning his 5 lots on Boise Avenue that are encumbered with Outlots that are zoned DR. Larry indicated that he would pursue a rezoning of the Outlots to R1 and replat the property to remove the Outlots.”
Loveland City Manager Don Williams is said to be assisting Heckel with his efforts to change the zoning on those lots that currently cannot be built upon but failed to disclose his activities to Heckel's colleagues on the city council. Two councilors contacted by LovelandPolitics said they were unaware of Heckel's current efforts to rezone those Outlots.
In the meantime, Loveland residents who are members of the Harvest Gold Village community built by Heckel’s construction company, Heckel Construction LLC., are suing both Larry Heckel personally and his construction company for “negligence” as they struggle to live in allegedly unsafe buildings where they say their floors are slowly collapsing.
Among the allegations in the lawsuit is Heckel’s use of cheaper Tiger brand jack posts that are not meant for holding girders of a floor for multi-family buildings. According to a source at the Loveland lumber yard where the posts were purchased, the product was clearly marked as temporary supports meant only for reinforcing existing construction where a water bed or other heavy item is placed in a home.
Ignoring the product warning labels, Heckel Construction LLC cut corners by using the cheaper temporary poles instead of those recommended for new construction that have a higher weight rating but are more expensive, according to one source close to the case and the vendor who sold the posts.
Ross Construction Inc. framed the buildings and is said to be furious with Heckel, the general contractor and owner of the Harvest Gold development, for not taking responsibility for the construction defects and likely building code violations. According to one LovelandPolitics’ source close to the case, Ross Construction Inc. is being unfairly blamed by Heckel as are other subcontractors along with the engineer who were all asked to cut corners by Heckel during the construction phase of the project. The same source said Heckel's position on the city council allows him to cut corners without concern of city building inspectors flagging any code violations.
What Happened to City Building Inspections?
Heckel is a hold-over from Loveland’s “builder” council when companies like KB Homes were allowed to construct multi-family residences in Loveland that did not conform to international building codes (IBC) adopted by the City of Loveland. Former building officials have blamed the “contractors” on city council like Larry Heckel and David Clark for preventing them from red tagging and stopping unsafe and substandard construction practices in the past. Former senior building inspector, James Cook, who is now a building inspector for the State of Colorado explained it this way in an affidavit filed in District Court in the Klen matter,
"The permissive approach to building permits was part of City of Loveland's policies.....depended on whether the builder was part of an insider group which included members of the Construction Advisory Board and the City Council"
In 2002, after considerable complaints to the City of Loveland by residents of KB Homes, then Planning Commissioner David Clark (before being elected to council) voted to support KB Homes building an even larger development in Loveland despite their poor reputation and problems with another development in Loveland they were just completing.
Clark, a commercial contractor, voted on July 8, 2002 to provide KB Homes with a special waiver from the city’s code for their proposed Aspen Knoll project now owned by McWhinney (see story regarding the history of the development). Clark's own firm, Clark Construction, was found by a city inspector to be constructing a church without a licensed plumber on the job among other violations. (see inspection report) The frustrated city inspector eventually quit his job in disgust after Loveland City Manager Don Williams and Director of Planning Greg George failed to properly enforce the code according to the former city employee against Dave Clark who was at that time a member of Loveland's city council.
News Not Reaching the Public
An insurance agent for the building trades told LovelandPolitics that insuring contractors in Loveland has become more difficult given the number of lawsuits by residents against contractors in recent years. A growing trend has been the use of Home Owners Associations (HOA's) to file lawsuits in an effort to remedy problems new home occupants feel were not fixed by the builder when the defects were discovered long after construction was completed.
These lawsuits involve well known law firms and literally hundreds of plaintiffs as members of the HOA's. More difficult to detect are the many individual lawsuits by homeowners who are unable to invest resources required to hold builders accountable for shoddy construction practices that were signed-off by either lazy or corrupt city inspectors.
Hundreds of Loveland homeowners have been forced to use the court system to remedy their complaints regarding unsafe or simply substandard building practices in a city that should have caught the alleged gross construction defects through proper building inspections. As an example, destructive testing of the KB Homes' Greenbriar development completed in Loveland in 2002 found that every multi-family unit in the development was allowed an occupancy permit despite not a single unit being constructed in compliance with the City of Loveland building codes. see story.
The City of Loveland has been conspicuously quiet on these lawsuits especially when a member of Loveland's City Council is the builder being sued as is the case with the Harvest Gold Village lawsuit against Councilman Heckel.
The absence of local news coverage regarding these important legal complaints followed by quiet settlements means new home buyers are unaware of past problems with certain home builders. The dearth of news coverage also translates into a lack of public information necessary to force reform of corrupt leadership in city hall that may be responsible for the trend of poor building practices.
In Loveland, a number of building inspectors (like those mentioned in the Klen lawsuit) simply quit their jobs out of frustration and moved-on to communities where they knew Don Williams or Greg George could not provide waivers from city code regulations for friendly contractors or members of the city council who used their political influence to gain favorable treatment.
The upcoming departure of City Manager Don Williams will be a test of the newer members of Loveland's city council. Whether they can clean house and remove Greg George and other officials who follow close in William's footsteps of political cronyism remains to be seen. In the meantime, the homeowners at Harvest Gold Village will continue their costly battle against Councilman Heckel in court trying to remedy alleged building safety defects that should have been caught by professional city building inspectors during the construction of the project.
If you have experienced similar problems, please feel welcome to comment on the blog along with anyone else who would like to comment on this story.
Floor Dropping Out of Councilman Heckel's Political Career