Construction flap

County says unpermitted work done again on property

Previous permitting issue cost owner a half-million dollars
2013-11-02T16:00:00Z County says unpermitted work done again on propertyPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
November 02, 2013 4:00 pm  • 

Almost 10 years after a Monticello Road property owner shelled out $500,000 in fines, fees and extra costs for doing unpermitted construction work, county code enforcement officers are alleging he’s done the same thing recently.

Last month, Napa County hit Joseph Gonsalves, of J.A. Gonsalves and Son Construction in Napa, with a notice and order regarding nine allegations of unpermitted work and improvements to his 90-acre property, which is about one mile east of Atlas Peak Road.

Developer Steve Hasty, who’s working as Gonsalves’ contractor, said the latest conflict with the county is based more on different interpretations of the California Building Code on which improvements require permits. Code enforcement’s reading of the statutes and determinations that Gonsalves needs permits don’t mirror his own, Hasty said.

“I would expect it would amount to very little once it’s all said and done,” Hasty said Friday.

Both Supervising Code Enforcement Officer Dave Giudice and Hasty said the sides are working amicably to resolve the dispute.

“It’s sort of an ongoing investigation at this point,” Giudice said. “They are working with us in a positive direction.”

In 2005, Gonsalves got a use permit exception from the Napa County Planning Commission allowing his two-story home — converted from a garage — that’s immediately adjacent to Sarco Creek to stay up, despite the fact that he didn’t get permits before starting the project, and the home is within the creek setback. Gonsalves agreed to make a series of improvements to Sarco Creek in exchange.

The commissioners weren’t pleased, however, and criticized him for flouting county building and land-use regulations. Gonsalves apologized at the meeting.

His consultant at the time, Jeff Redding, said Gonsalves was on the hook for $500,000 in road work, improving the creek, fines, twice the normal fees, and related consulting costs.

The environmental organization Earth Defense for the Environment Now opposed the exception, saying it would start a dangerous precedent for property owners and the county’s conservation regulations. Sarco Creek, the group noted, has migratory steelhead running in it, although not to the Gonsalves property.

Gonsalves and his wife, Denise, wrote a letter to the Napa Valley Register urging other home owners in the unincorporated area to take their situation as a cautionary tale.

The property was originally developed in the 1890s as a quarry, which sat on the eastern end. A cabin, an in-stream swimming pool and other structures were built over the years, predating Gonsalves’ purchase in 1996.

Their letter asserted that because the garage was an existing structure and involved few changes to the building’s footprint, it could have been converted to a home without permits. He therefore didn’t notify the county.

“We urge all persons who do construction in Napa County, whether they are persons in the building trades or homeowners like us, to check with the county building and planning department before you begin your construction project, not afterwards as we did,” the letter states. “A simple call can avoid a costly mistake.”

Joe Gonsalves did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

In the most recent case, the county is alleging that Gonsalves did additional work without permits. The notice and order alleges:

• He has plans to replace the cabin within the creek setbacks. Hasty said he’s agreed to just tear down the cabin, which sits out over Sarco Creek, and improve the bank and channel in that area. He has a demolition permit for this work, Hasty said.

• He built a storage deck within the creek setbacks.

• He installed a hot tub and a retaining wall, as well as a pathway, within the creek setbacks. Hasty said this was done on an existing deck, and Gonsalves didn’t think it would require a permit.

• He installed electricity to a bocce ball court.

• He installed a water heater.

• He put in an office trailer that has plumbing and electricity on the property.

• He did “several hundred yards” worth of grading and filling on the eastern half of the property. Hasty said that was covered by a permit Gonsalves received years ago.

Hasty called Gonsalves a good steward of the property, and one committed to improving its condition as well as cleaning it up.

“It’s much to do about nothing,” Hasty said of the recent dispute with the county.

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(2) Comments

  1. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - November 03, 2013 8:23 am
    Call me crazy, but if I had been dinged once to the tune of $1/2 million for code and/or permit related issues, I'd be so squeaky clean on any future construction that it would be impossible to have a difference of interpretation of regulations and such.
  2. Downtownworker
    Report Abuse
    Downtownworker - November 03, 2013 10:05 pm
    Is this guy a contractor? And he thought he could convert a garage to a house without a permit because it didn't change the footprint? You need a permit to change an electrical outlet or a window or to sheetrock. And a permit is only good for a year, two at the most. Not one from years ago. This is all very shady and I don't know how anyone could think they could get away with this. shocking!
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