The town planning director says she had “reservations” about permits that were issued for a construction project to which a Taos town councilor sold hundreds of windows.
Email and phone messages suggest planning director Martha Perkins was getting pressure from town manager Oscar Rodríguez and town councilor Andrew Gonzáles to issue temporary certificates of occupancy for several units in an affordable housing development known as Taos Haus.
Town officials say the push was to encourage low-income housing in Taos.
The developer, Steve Crozier, bought windows from Gonzáles’ company, WeatherGard Windows and Doors. A blog about the project, posted the window manufacturer’s website, noted more than 330 windows were installed on the 30-unit development.
Perkins told The Taos News her direction to issue the permits came from Rodríguez, though she was asked specifically by Gonzáles at least once about when it would happen.
“He had told me he wanted them issued. I told him I don’t have any control over that,” Perkins said.
At the time, the town was relying on Taos County for building inspections. But after county staff said the Taos Haus buildings were not ready for a permit, the town took back those responsibilities.
Temporary certificates dated Nov. 27 were issued by the town for 16 units. The permits were signed by town employee Juli Skansie.
Two days later, Skansie wrote an email to Perkins raising doubts about whether the buildings were ready to be permitted. “Is there a chance that the [temporary certificates of occupancy] were issued prematurely?” Skansie wrote. “Are we sure there was a final [inspection] on the electrical and plumbing; do you know?”
The town code requires that electrical and plumbing/mechanical inspections be complete before a temporary certificate of occupancy is issued.
Skansie asked Perkins in the same email if they should talk with the state, noting that her license could be in jeopardy.
“[The permits] are being issued much earlier than I would have liked,” Perkins responded in an email. “I checked with the town attorney and state statute to make sure we could do these temps and we decided we could.”
Perkins said in an interview Wednesday (Jan. 8) she had “reservations” about issuing the permits. “I did go to the attorney and told him I didn’t feel comfortable doing this,” Perkins said.
Perkins said the push to get the permits issued was so the developer could take advantage of tax credits. She also said it was because of the town’s urgent need for affordable housing.
She said the permits do not allow anyone to occupy the buildings until inspections are complete and there are no safety concerns.
The town’s approval of the permits came after Perkins had called and written the county saying the town manager and councilor were repeatedly asking her about when they would be issued.
On. Nov. 15, Perkins left a voicemail with a county building official asking about the permits. “I guess I need to talk to you because they keep bringing it up,” Perkins said. “I don’t know if anybody’s called you directly. I’ve suggested they do that. It’s hard for me to be the middle man.”
On Nov. 19, Perkins wrote the same county building official an email, again asking if councilor Gonzáles had called about the permit.
The emails and voicemail can be found on the left side of this page.
Asked about the permits, Gonzáles initially told The Taos News Monday (Jan. 6) he did not get involved. “I stayed completely out of it because I did some work for the developer,” Gonzáles said.
When the correspondence from Perkins was mentioned, Gonzáles said during the same interview he had talked to her about the permits but said he only asked when they would be issued. Gonzáles was adamant he did not use his political influence to pressure town staff to get the permits issued, but he said he wants to make it easier for contractors to do business in the town.
“I do want to make it as business friendly as possible, obviously keeping it within the lines of legality,” Gonzáles said.
Gonzáles said his professional relationship with Crozier, the project’s developer, dates back to 2002. He said they have an understanding Crozier can’t “lean” on him as a public official for favors.
Crozier did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Rodríguez said in an interview Wednesday the town used its discretion to issue the permits because they were an important part of keeping this and other housing developments going.
“In an environment like Taos, where there is a dire housing shortage, we are going to work with the builder to make sure those units come on board as fast as possible without compromising public safety,” Rodríguez said.
He said the town did not violate its own rules when it issued the certificates without the inspections mentioned in the town code.
After the town issued the permits, a county building official wrote an email to the state alleging the certificates were issued without the required inspections.
A spokesman for the Construction Industries Division told The Taos News the agency is “looking into the issue and will be working with the town officials to ensure all codes are followed.”