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Back Tracks

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After a day-long hearing in District Court on Sept. 15, Judge Timothy Simmons declined to issue a permanent injunction against the commercial building project of John McGee in the Red Mountain Heights neighborhood of Manitou ("Dj vu all over again: Manitou and the McGees," Sept. 14).

A group of neighbors opposing the McGee project were hoping to force the city of Manitou to enforce a zoning ordinance requiring a minimum lot size of 9,000 square feet for construction on properties zoned low-density residential.

The McGee lot is only 5,100 square feet, and McGee had not asked for a variance to build his project.

The neighbors obtained a preliminary restraining order against McGee that stated that "irreparable harm" would result if McGee were allowed to continue construction "without first obtaining a lot variance... from the City of Manitou Springs."

The judge ruled, however, that even though he sympathized with the neighbors, there was insufficient proof of irreparable injury, and he declined to issue a permanent injunction.

The neighbors' lawyer, Ken Nuss, reports that McGee argued in court that he has a vested right to continue building because he relied on the city's permission to go ahead with the project, and he'd spent considerable money excavating the property and preparing it for development.

"It's almost impossible to prove irreparable injury on a construction project that hasn't been concluded," said Nuss, "and my clients can't afford to take this any further."

Two of the plaintiffs, Doug and Kim Powell, say they plan, as a result of the judge's decision, to sell their house and move to Oregon.

Nuss reports that McGee -- the son of Tom McGee, who angered many Manitou residents in the early 1990s by building a house on the summit of Iron Mountain -- offered to sell his property to the neighbors.

"He's asking a very high price, though," said Nuss, "and there was no assurance that he would restore the property to its previous state. The chances of that offer being accepted are basically nill.

"It's my sincere hope," Nuss continued, "that Manitou clarifies its zoning ordinance to spell out specifically when an individual can and cannot build on an undersized lot without obtaining a variance. As it stands now, the planning department's sole guidance is the commentary of city attorney Alan Jensen, who always tells the developer to build."

The three-year-old Pueblo labor dispute between United Steelworkers of America and Oregon Steel continues to generate a flurry of legal maneuverings and verbal strategems.

In a Sept. 11 letter to Oregon Steel CEO Joe Corvin, the union offered to end the three-year labor dispute by dropping its appeal of a National Labor Relations Board ruling that found the Pueblo chapter of USWA guilty of picket--line misconduct.

In exchange the union asked Oregon Steel to drop its appeal of a May 1999 NLRB decision in which an administrative judge found the company guilty of unfair labor practices, ruled the strike a legitimate job action and found the company liable for back pay to strikers ("Pueblo Steelworkers Revel in Victory," June 8).

Oregon Steel rejected the offer, however, dismissing it as union propaganda.

"This is a bogus offer," said Oregon Steel spokesperson Vicki Tagliafico. "The union knows that if we ceased to contest the ruling, we'd still be liable for millions of dollars in back pay to workers who walked out on strike.

"The union, on the other hand, would be liable for nothing," she said. "They know the offer isn't a legitimate possibility. It's nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to undermine the reputation of Oregon Steel."

Terry bonds, director of USWA District 12, defended the offer as "another attempt to figure out a way to settle this thing."

"Oregon Steel's back pay liability is increasing every day they delay settlement," he said. "If they don't resolve this soon, they're going to owe more money than they're worth."

Meanwhile, Rocky Mountain Steel Mills has recalled 100 striking workers. The mill was recently fined $487,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 1,089 violations of 107 workplace safety standards -- the highest number ever found in a single Colorado facility.

USWA attorney John Duray said the union welcomes the recall, but he claims the union workers were brought back because the replacement workers weren't able to meet standards and the mill is in desperate need of skilled workers.

Aware of new developments surrounding stories that first appeared in our pages? Send follow-up tips to: Attn: Backtracks, The Colorado Springs Independent, 121 E. Pikes Peak Ave., Suite 455, Colorado Springs, CO 80903; by fax to: 577-4107; or by e-mail to: letters@csindy.com.

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