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Dream House That Became a Nightmare : Building: A stop-work order put a halt to additions a couple were making to their foothills house. For a year, they tried to resolve problem. Now they are suing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gloria Stevens and Ronald Liskanich saved for years to buy their dream home with the idea of starting a family.

Finally, last year, the two physicians--who have been married for more than five years--found a pink, Mediterranean-style home in the foothills of San Dimas.

They decided to turn one of the three bedrooms into a large closet and add another bedroom, bath and game room. But at the height of construction, the city slapped them with a stop-work order after a neighbor complained that the additions were too close to his property.

After a fruitless, year-long effort to resolve the problem, the couple’s $475,000 dream has become a nightmare. And, on Sept. 5, Stevens, 31, and Liskanich, 35, filed suit alleging the city issued a building permit, so it should allow them to finish the project.

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According to city records, Community Development Director Larry Stevens said, the Planning Department approved the building plans based on a zoning law that requires a 12-foot side yard setback on the driveway side of a house and a five-foot setback on the other side.

Director Stevens said a city planner determined that, if the house had two driveways, one on either side, the 12-foot setback requirement could be waived. The planner suggested that the builder put in a second driveway.

Based on that, a building permit was issued in August, 1990, for 495 square feet of additions to the couple’s home on Calle Cristina. Work began later that month.

The neighbor, Pomona Municipal Judge Jack Hunt, complained that the additions invaded his privacy and devalued his home. As a result, the city ordered a halt to the construction last September.

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The two doctors applied for a variance to allow completion of the addition. They also gathered the signatures of 188 sympathetic area residents. After the Planning Commission denied the variance in April, the couple appealed to the City Council.

Council members John Ebiner, Sandy McHenry and Curt Morris voted against the variance, saying the property did not meet all the state regulations for granting such a request.

Mayor Terry Dipple and Councilman Denis Bertone voted for the variance.

“I felt that, since the city had issued the building permit and the work proceeded under those permits, the city shouldn’t come back and say no,” Dipple said. “It doesn’t seem fair. The neighbor did not come forward right away. He waited until a substantial amount of work had proceeded.”

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Morris disagreed:

“I don’t believe we could make a legal finding for a variance,” the councilman said. “The only issue was whether the property has a unique situation, or hardship, that would grant a variance. I couldn’t make that finding.”

Morris said that, if the court upholds the council’s decision, the addition would have to be scaled back considerably, or torn down.

Liskanich hopes the court will overrule the city, because the rooms are 80% finished.

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Stevens, a dermatologist in Upland, and Liskanich, a Los Angeles anesthesiologist, said they feel as if the city has abandoned them. They have already spent $58,000 on construction costs and estimate that it would take an additional $80,000 just to restore the house to its original form.

“It has been the room addition from hell,” she said. “The city didn’t grant us the variance, nor did it offer to pay for tearing down the rooms and putting the house back the way it was.”

Hunt said he wants the addition taken down because he bought his 3,000-square-foot home based on the ample spaces between houses in the area. The judge said he feels that, because the city issued the building permit, it should pay the costs to correct the matter.

“I don’t think (Stevens and Liskanich) should be out of pocket,” he said. “The city should share the cost. It’s only fair. The city made the mistake, and it should pay for it.”

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“We naturally anticipated a lawsuit, and we hope at this stage the process will be resolved shortly,” City Manager Bob Poff said. “I like to think this would conclude the matter, but at this point we don’t know.”

The suit names as defendants the City Council and the Planning Commission, according to Barry Brandt, the couple’s attorney. Although Hunt was not named in the suit, it was filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court, Brandt said, to avoid the possibility of a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Stevens said she can see no circumstances under which she would allow the new rooms to come down.

“I will protect them to the end,” she vowed. “If we have to tear it down, I will stand in front of the bulldozer.”

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