Who's Over the Line Here?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The seventh time was definitely not a charm for the Mahlers.

The Villa Park couple was in the midst of making nearly $70,000 worth of additions to their home on Henderson Way. They had paid inspection and permit fees. City building inspectors visited the construction site six times and never found a problem.

But then the city officials noticed that a 350-square-foot addition to a home office was several feet too close to the property line and they halted the project last month, infuriating the Mahlers and leaving city leaders red-faced.

"It's terribly embarrassing," said Mayor Russell Patterson. "I feel bad; the city could have done a better job."

The Mahlers are willing to remove the offending addition--if the city picks up the tab. But Villa Park leaders say they aren't liable for the mistakes. The City Council will try to find a solution at tonight's budget meeting.

The Mahlers paid nearly $1,600 in permit and inspection fees to the city before the problem was discovered. The city contracts building inspection services with Berryman & Henigar, a Santa Ana-based firm that reviews building plans and does inspections.

Berryman & Henigar officials said on Monday that they regretted the oversight, but said the Mahlers submitted vague plans--a claim the Mahlers dispute--and that four separate additions were difficult to inspect.

Construction on the other additions to the $1.2-million home are almost finished, but the office addition still lacks walls and gives neighbors a clear view into the Mahlers' backyard.

"If this was happening to someone else, it might be funny," grumbled Arnold Mahler, 65.

The Mahlers have grudgingly accepted that their office addition is illegal, but say the city should have caught the problem earlier.

"I trusted the city," Arnold Mahler said.

"I knew I wasn't supposed to build a 20-story apartment building, but the rest is up to [the city]."

Villa Park is protected from paying damages by the state government code, said City Atty. Leonard Hampel.

Some council members say they are willing to give the Mahlers a variance that would let them finish the work.

Most of the Mahlers' neighbors have signed a letter supporting such a move.

"I hope he gets a variance and we just put this whole thing behind us," Patterson said.

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