When Adi Halili bought a three-acre parcel in the Tucson Mountains in 2007, he hadn’t anticipated it would take three years of battles with Pima County government and some of his new neighbors to try to get a house built.
Because of what Halili said was a sustained effort to prevent him from building his family home in the already heavily populated westside foothills, he decided to file a civil rights complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office against Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson and Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
“There were continuous attempts by Sharon Bronson and the Tucson Mountain Association to sabotage us,” said Halili, a physical therapist with a doctorate from Northern Arizona University. He runs two physical therapy clinics in the Tucson region.
In his complaint with the Attorney General, Halili said members of the Tucson Mountain Association, a neighborhood association, used their influence with Bronson to get county officials to delay construction of the home on El Camino del Cerro west of Camino de Oeste.
The delays, stop-work orders, additional planning and legal expenses cost Halili an estimated $250,000, he estimates.
The county issued three stop-work orders during construction following what officials said were violations of code or work done that was inconsistent with plans.
During the early stages of construction, for instance, workers had cleared an area larger than allowed under original plans.
Halili said it’s true that a larger area was graded, but that it was only done because pipelines from the house to a septic tank and leech field had to be installed.
“We restored it as we intended to all along,” he said.
To mitigate that and other issues, however, the matter was sent to the county’s development review committee (DRC) where Halili requested an exemption to the hillside development zone ordinance, which seeks to protect desert areas from excessive grading.
That’s when the battles with the county and neighbors began.
“The moment he went to the DRC, that’s when all hell hit,” said Peter Petrowski, an architect who designed Halili’s house and worked with him throughout much of the building. “They made him jump through hoops on every last item.”
Pima County Development Services Director Carmine DeBonis said the troubles with Halili’s home building project were of his own making.
“I think Mr. Halili was one of the biggest obstacles of getting final approval,” DeBonis said.
For instance, DeBonis said workers at Halili’s property began construction before permits were granted. As the project moved ahead, DeBonis said there were numerous instances of work occuring outside of what was allowed and in defiance of a list of 24 conditions set by the development review committee.
“A path was set in motion that made it difficult for him to get through the approval and occupancy process,” DeBonis said.
Halili provided Inside Tucson Business with hundreds of pages of documents and emails, which he says show attempts by Tucson Mountain Association members to derail his project and a pattern of collusion among county officials and association members.
Those documents include numerous emails between Bronson and Tucson Mountain Association President Edwin Verburg, who occupied the neighborhood association’s seat on the development review committee. Verburg and other residents watched construction activity at the Halili home closely and communicated regularly with Bronson and county officials.
On several occasions, Verburg’s emails alleged improper construction activity at the house, which Bronson later forwarded to Huckelberry and other county employees asking for investigations.
Bronson said it’s normal for her to communicate with residents in her district, particularly if they need help with county issues.
“The neighbors were concerned that he (Halili) wasn’t following the rules,” Bronson said. “We merely asked him to play by the rules and he consistently has not done that.”
In an April 2010 exchange, Verburg and the Tucson Mountain Association sent county planner Sue Morman, who was the planner for the Halili project, a list of potential violations association members claimed that they saw at the Halili house and requested a stop-work order.
Those also included perceived improper dumping of excavation spoil and that a wash on the property had been filled with the material.
County staffers investigated, but found no violations.
The emails also reveal an incident from April 2010, in which Halili said neighbors verbally assaulted workers at the house and hurled rocks at them.
In an April 7, 2010, email to Morman, Halili said the Pima County Sheriff’s Department had been contacted about the incident and that he told workers to call police if they suspected neighbors were stalking them or trespassing on the property.
In another exchange in February 2011, Verburg again contacted Pima County Development Services with concerns that construction workers had improperly dumped excavation spoil on the property.
After county officials informed Verburg that there were no violations, his concerns were forwarded to Bronson.
“Why is staff allowing this? Is this normal procedure?” Bronson wrote in a Feb. 15, 2011, email to Huckelberry.
In response, DeBonis explained that Tucson Mountain Association’s allegation of improper dumping were incorrect.
“It is not customary to require materials that will be used at later stages of work to be removed, only to be brought back again,” DeBonis wrote. “At this point, the project is not deemed to be in violation of the condition (for construction).”
Squabbling with TMA members continued throughout the stop-and-start construction process, when in late 2011 Halili, saying he was fed up with residents trespassing on his property, filed for an injunction against Verburg in Pima County Justice Court.
The case was ultimately dismissed, with the judge finding no factual or legal basis to issue the injunction.
Verburg wrote of the judge’s decision in an email to Bronson, saying: “The case presented by … Halili had no substance – they just wanted us to stop sending complaints to the County.”
In a brief response, Bronson wrote: “Score one for the good guys!”
Around the same time, Verburg wrote to Huckelberry and other county officials that he was at the property and saw furniture on the patio and that other neighbors said they had seen a party going on at the house, which had still not been granted a certificate of occupancy.
“We are concerned that Mr. Halili is establishing residency before issuance of the final occupancy permit,” Verburg wrote.
County officials again investigated but no citations were issued.
Halili said the constant battles with neighbors and the county and the delays those caused demonstrate a pattern of repeated attempts to stop construction of his house.
“I think they thought I was just some foreigner and they could do to me what they’ve probably done to 100 other people,” said Halili, who emigrated from Israel 25 years ago. “This is not what a public servant should do – not to me and not to anybody else.” DeBonis, however, said frequent violations at the home site required excessive time and attention of county officials.
“This was anything but typical or standard,” he said.
The county issued the certificate of occupancy earlier this year and Halili and his family have since moved into the house.
Halili said he has not gotten a response from the Attorney General’s office concerning his complaint.
Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at email@example.com or (520) 295-4259