- Posted January 29, 2014 by
Albuquerque, New Mexico
City of Albuquerque Makes Disastrous Error, Expects Resident to Suffer Consequences
"I cannot live like this anymore," Robinson said. He and his 18-year-old son have been living in the "un-insulated construction zone" for more than two years, when the city ordered him to stop the project due to code violations. The city now maintains it should have never issued a permit in the first place because it contradicted the zoning code.
Robinson maintains that there’s more to it, alleging he’s being discriminated against because he’s black. The city’s deputy director of communications, Breanna Anderson, said "race is neither relevant nor germane" when the planning department is taking a complaint.
CNN has not verified all of the claims made in this story. Stay tuned for more updates, which will be posted here.
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
Johnny Robinson is a black man living in an otherwise white neighborhood in Albuquerque, NM. He is a proud father raising his son single-handedly. Growing up as one of seven children on a farm in a small town in Georgia, he worked hard his entire life, believing in the American Dream. As an adult, he became a self-taught licensed general contractor and pipefitter, moved to Albuquerque, and opened his own plumbing, heating, and cooling business. His hard work seemed to be paying off, and he was able to buy property in a beautiful, though somewhat antiquated, residential neighborhood with the intent of remodeling. Life was good. That is, until a disastrous mistake by the City of Albuquerque Planning Department turned his life upside down.
In 2008, Mr. Robinson presented plans to the City of Albuquerque to add a second story and third garage to his house. Due to the garage being close to the property line, he was told by the City to either request a variance from the City Zoning Department or obtain notarized approval for this variance by the neighbor directly affected. The City provided him with the document, which his neighbor returned signed and notarized. Consequently, his plans were approved by the City, and he received a building permit and began construction. Due to a technical issue during construction, he had to re-submit his plans. They were approved a second time and another building permit was issued.
After Mr. Robinson single-handedly completed framing, and the addition was entirely enclosed, the City began receiving complaints from neighbors, and the neighborhood association began discussion concerning the “problem with the colored man on the corner”. Inspectors came to his house multiple times to investigate, each time finding no wrong-doing. During this period Mr. Robinson passed all required inspections. Despite this, he was brought to the City of Albuquerque Office of Administrative Hearings Zoning court several times.
On 01/12/2012, the Zoning Hearing Examiner ruled that the city had made an error in approving his plans and stated that Mr. Robinson had received an incorrect form for his neighbor to sign. Because of the unusual orientation of his home on a corner lot, the variance needed to be for a rear setback, yet the form provided to him by the City, which the neighbor signed, was for a side setback. Consequently, it was determined that he would need to obtain approval for the variance ex post facto. This, however, was denied by the Zoning Hearing Examiner. The Notification of Decision declares “This office… may not compound the error of the approval of a building permit by granting a variance [and]… this request [for a variance] is denied”. He appealed this decision and it was once again denied. A stop-work order was placed on his construction almost 2 years ago.
Despite having his plans approved not once, but twice, by the City of Albuquerque, despite his strict adherence to all required mandates and passing of multiple inspections throughout all steps of construction, Mr. Robinson is now being told that he cannot complete his addition. The City has admitted it made an error, yet refuses to compromise and approve the variance, despite the fact that the home is already built based on the City’s issuance of a building permit. Interestingly, other homes in the neighborhood, owned by Caucasian families, violate the very same setback code. The City has taken no issue with any of these homes.
At this point, the only way for Mr. Robinson to bring his remodel up to code without the City’s approval for a variance would be to demolish the entire structure and start over. Yet the City of Albuquerque refuses to provide any type of financial or other reparation to aid in this effort. Consequently, Mr. Robinson has been forced to file suit against the City of Albuquerque to recoup his costs. Obviously, the City who has admitted fault has no vested interest in having this go to court. Consequently, this case has seemingly been de-prioritized in the system with no court date in sight. In the meantime, Mr. Robinson and his teenage son have been living in an un-insulated construction zone for over two years. The temperature in his home has been in the 30’s this past month. The ceiling is caving in due to water damage. The kitchen is unusable. The living conditions forced upon Mr. Robinson and his son, by the City of Albuquerque, are deplorable.
Mr. Robinson has worked hard his entire life in order to provide a better life for his son than what he had as a child. His son is now 18 years old and looking forward to college. His focus should be on helping his son plan a future. Instead, all of his time, energy, and money are being spent on the above legal issues brought on by the City of Albuquerque due to no error of his own. Because of the unanticipated costs, he is concerned how he will pay his son’s upcoming college tuition. His son already had to turn down an offer to attend a prestigious summer program at the University of Miami this past year due to lack of funds. The City of Albuquerque admits their error, yet refuses to provide any restitution, forcing Mr. Robinson and his son to live in these substandard conditions with no resolution in sight.
Mr. Robinson built this house with his own two hands to provide a beautiful home for his child. He relied on the City of Albuquerque to do their job competently. If the City had given him the slightest indication that there may be a problem with his plans, he never would have begun construction. His home promises to be a beautiful addition to the neighborhood if he is allowed to complete construction. If not, then it will sit unfinished, an eyesore to everyone, and a sad reminder of an American Dream shattered by the very government whose goal is to protect that dream.
If you would like to voice your support on behalf of Mr. Johnny Robinson and his son, please address your comments to:
District 4 Councilman, Brad Winter
PO Box 1293, Albuquerque, NM 87103
Mayor Richard Berry
Office of the Mayor
PO Box 1293
Albuquerque, NM 87103
Albuquerque Planning Department: Division of Zoning Enforcement and Housing Code Enforcement
600 2nd St NW # 500, Albuquerque, NM 87102