Court Ruling Leaves Unfinished Garage To Rot Despite Building Permit

Judge Cardinal’s order stopped all work on the garage despite the fact the Stoners were given a Cochise County building permit. [Photo by Terri Jo Neff]

The fate of an unfinished garage-workshop which stands rotting in a residential area south of Sierra Vista will be decided at a trial in April, more than one year after a Cochise County judge halted construction even though the property owners had a valid building permit.

On April 21, Ben and Evelyn Stoner will find out whether the stop-work order issued by Judge Laura Cardinal in February 2019 will result in demolition of their uncompleted 1,800-square-foot structure as neighbors Jeffrey and Kimberly Ochs have asked, or if the Stoners can try to salvage the deteriorating structure after it has sat through two winter storm seasons and last summer’s monsoon.

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Court records show the injunction was requested last January by the Ochs, who share a backyard boundary with the Stoners. The Ochs contend the garage violates the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) of the Mountain Shadows subdivision which is not controlled by a homeowners’ association. They also allege the Stoners intended to use the building for prohibited business activity on the one-acre lot.

Cardinal’s order stopped all work on the garage despite the fact the Stoners were given a Cochise County building permit. Since then, other neighbors in the area say the weather damage done to the building -including rotted wood and torn insulation- is causing more of a blight than the finished structure would have been.

The dispute is finally set for trial, but Cardinal won’t be the judge making the final ruling. Last year Cochise County’s presiding judge ruled the Stoners “cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial” from Cardinal, who issued the injunction during a 45-minute hearing despite knowing Robert Stachel, the Stoners’ attorney,  was receiving emergency medical care and couldn’t present evidence or testimony on behalf of his clients.

Several other county judges recused themselves from the case because they live in or near the same subdivision. A search was made for an out-of-county judge, after which Judge Anna Montoya-Paez of the Santa Cruz County Superior Court agreed to conduct the bench trial, which does not involve a jury.

Montoya-Paez could order the Stoners to tear down the building and pay the Ochs’ costs and attorney’s fees for upholding the CC&Rs. However, if the judge rules in favor of the Stoners, the Ochs could be ordered to pay monetary property damages, which is why a $30,000 bond was required from the Ochs to move the case forward.

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