An effort to construct a three-story, 11,000-square-foot duplex on Fir Drive in the Warm Springs area of Ketchum has spawned two lawsuits in Blaine County 5th District Court.
In 2018, brothers John and Scott Roberts received approval from the city of Ketchum to construct the building at 108 Fir Drive, on the corner of Fir and Pine.
In January, neighbor Robert Rudy filed a lawsuit against the city of Ketchum and against Planning Director John Gaeddert, alleging that the development project had numerous building and zoning code violations, and that the city had failed to enforce its building and zoning regulations.
In a response to that complaint, City Attorney Matthew Johnson denied the allegations.
Following that lawsuit, the Roberts brothers filed a countersuit against Rudy, alleging that he has harassed and intimidated construction workers at the property. The countersuit alleges that Rudy has filmed and photographed members of the Roberts family and engaged in other harassing behavior. The countersuit seeks $1 million in damages.
Both cases are pending before Judge Ned Williamson. Williamson has set a bench trial date of July 30 for Rudy’s lawsuit. A hearing for summary judgment has been set for April 15.
In the countersuit, the Roberts brothers’ attorney, Michael Pogue, stated that the family had owned the property since the 1960s. The Roberts brothers decided to build the duplex after their father died three years ago.
The lawsuit states that the Robertses’ 80-year-old mother, Mary Ann, experienced emotional distress from contentious communication with Rudy. Last November, Mary Ann Roberts became distressed and upset after communicating with Rudy, and fell and broke her hip as she was exiting a car, the lawsuit alleges. After that, she experienced two strokes and is bedridden, the lawsuit alleges.
“Upon information and belief, this condition is a proximate result of [Rudy’s] actions,” the lawsuit states. “[The Robertses] have done everything possible to avoid provocation, but [Rudy] insists on his war of intimidation.”
On Thursday, Rudy’s attorney, Sam Linnet, said the Roberts brothers’ claims were meritless.
“We don’t believe the allegations in their complaint have any merit,” he said. “It’s likely an attempt to bully and intimidate Robert Rudy. It’s completely unrelated to our case against the city of Ketchum.”
The Robertses’ application to the Ketchum Planning Department subdivided the property into two townhouse sublots—one of 5,860 square feet and another of 7,889 square feet. The property is 13,749 square feet.
The neighborhood is zoned General Residential Low Density. Under Ketchum zoning code, the allowed building coverage is 35 percent of the lot in neighborhoods with General Residential Low Density. With the Roberts brothers’ project, that would be 4,764 square feet. The calculated building coverage was 4,249 square feet.
Rudy’s lawsuit focuses on five areas: maximum building coverage area, a fire-resistant wall separating the duplex, a fire-sprinkler system, kitchens and a public records request.
The suit alleges the city government erred in calculating maximum building coverage. City code calculates coverage based on “the total square footage of the building foundation and all horizontal projections which constitute a ‘building’ as defined in this section, but not including roof overhangs that are three feet or less or uncovered decks less than 30 inches above grades,” according to the suit.
The building has uncovered decks 30 inches above grade and several roof projections over 3 feet, but those were omitted from the building coverage calculation, the lawsuit alleges. Had they been included, the building coverage would have exceeded the 35 percent maximum.
“Decks over 30 inches add an additional 727 square feet; there are also numerous roof projections over three feet, as well,” the lawsuit states.
City code requires that townhouse developments must be separated by a one-hour fire-resistant wall extending from the basement floor to the roof. Further, the sublot line overlaps the two units, according to the lawsuit.
“The final building plans for the 108 Fir Dr. project do not include a one-hour fire resistant wall,” Rudy’s lawsuit alleges.
In April 2018, a Ketchum Fire Department memorandum stated that an approved, automatic fire-sprinkler system should be installed throughout the building. City ordinance requires fire sprinkler systems in buildings with a floor area of 6,000 square feet or more.
“To date, no construction plans have been provided that indicate the existence of a fire sprinkler system,” the lawsuit alleges. “Despite requests for fire inspection documents, the city of Ketchum has not provided any documentation that an approved automatic fire sprinkler system has been installed, or that such a system could meet fire sprinkler flow requirements.”
The suit also alleges that the project is in violation of city code because it includes multiple kitchens.
“Under the city of Ketchum’s definition of a townhouse unit, only a single kitchen is allowed,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states that Rudy submitted two public records requests to the city of Ketchum.
“In the second request, Mr. Rudy requested all building inspections for the 108 Fir Dr. project, any staff reports that make determinations about maximum building coverage, building height, the location of any benchmarks, building plan approval, any other documents relevant to the townhouse designation of the project and building code violations,” the lawsuit states. “The city of Ketchum did not provide all inspections of the 108 Fir Dr. project, nor did it provide documents explaining how the maximum building coverage area was calculated or how the lot line could overlap the two units.”
City Attorney Johnson denied the lawsuit’s allegations.
He also wrote that Rudy has not stated a claim for which relief could be granted, that he lacks legal standing to pursue the action, that he has not exhausted administrative remedies, that the case was brought prematurely and that the city fulfilled its legal duty to disclose public records, among other defenses. He requested that Williamson dismiss the case.
The building remains under construction. At a Feb. 4 hearing, Williamson said the case should be expedited. He later granted a motion allowing the Roberts brothers to join Rudy’s lawsuit as intervenors.
“There are some significant issues here that the city needs to get on top of,” Williamson said Feb. 4. “The owner of the property needs to be at the table. This is a big investment by the owner. There is a lot of money at stake.”