Longform

The Master Bilkers

Page 7 of 7

There is still much to do at Los Portones. Flanigan has found himself thrust into the role of ad hoc developer, fielding gripes from the homeowners' association about work on the common property Orians never finished.

Slowly, the subdivision is nearing completion. There is one house, though, that likely will never be finished.

Irv Taran is a custom-home builder who moved into Los Portones two years ago. Taran, who built homes in both California and Michigan before moving to Arizona, says he watched his home's construction diligently from start to finish because, as he puts it, no one else was.

Taran's home stands one foot away from a half-finished house. According to the Uniform Building Code, single-family homes can be no closer than three feet from the property line. Taran says construction was halted on the home only after he complained repeatedly to Scottsdale building officials about the code violation.

"That home is actually sitting on my property," Taran says, "which makes me wonder what those inspectors were doing."

Sharon Anton, whose home was completed without a drain in the atrium, wonders the same thing.

"All of this work was signed off on," she says, producing the inspection checklist to prove it.

Bob Petrillo, who heads Scottsdale's inspection department, would not comment, referring all calls to Amy Lieberman, a Scottsdale city attorney. Lieberman says the city waived the requirement that homes have three-foot setbacks on each side.

The three-foot setback would have meant that the homes would actually have been six feet apart--three feet on each side of the property line. Instead, Anton's house is so close to her neighbor's that workers could not get in to apply stucco, leaving patches of exposed chicken wire and foam. And it is doubtful that anyone could squeeze between Taran's home and the neighboring house.

Sharon Anton is slowly working through her home's deficiencies. After two years of complaining to the state registrar of contractors, she finally got her electrical work repaired by threatening to take the contractor before a hearing panel.

Anton and Taran are not the only ones with problems at Los Portones. Intercontinental Builders of Arizona, Inc.'s file at the Registrar's Office includes 22 complaints filed by homeowners at the subdivision. The problems range from minor touchups to cracked floor slabs, leaky roofs and faulty plumbing and electrical work.

The problems at Los Portones are so severe that the registrar's $100,000 recovery fund--a special fund set up by developers for such occasions--has been nearly emptied by just six homeowners. It now holds only $6,000, and Anton has her eye on the rest of the fund's money.

Workers also botched the work around her front door so hopelessly that, every time she hoses off her sidewalk, water seeps in beneath the baseboard.

At least the liens on her home have finally been taken care of. Last month, Old Republic, the title company which Greg Orians used, settled with the last of the contractors who claimed he had never been paid for the work he performed on her home.

Jules Firetag, the company's attorney, says the amount of the settlements it had to pay out on behalf of Anton and other homeowners was "well into the six figures."

Other contractors--the ones who performed work on homes that were never sold--weren't so lucky. According to claims filed against Orians' subdivisions in bankruptcy court, contractors lost as much as $600,000 at Los Portones. For the other three subdivisions, the total is well over $500,000.

On a recent evening, Anton leads the way to her back porch and points to the view that so captivated her she was willing to fork out an extra $5,000 in upgrade money. When she saw it two years ago, it took in a narrow wash, behind which rose low, rolling bluffs studded with mesquite and saguaros--the perfect place to take in a desert sunrise, or relax on warm evenings and take in the stars.

It won't stay that way for long, though. The City of Scottsdale has big plans for the strip of land running along the wash's far bank.

Soon, Sharon Anton will have a breathtaking view of a major four-lane thoroughfare.

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Howard Stansfield