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Paduchs write check, ending long-running building permit dispute with city

COREY SHOUN • Apr 4, 2007 at 10:51 AM

JOHNSON CITY - As long as the check clears, the years-long building permit dispute between the city of Johnson City and one of its sitting commissioners is officially over.

Commissioner Pete Paduch and his brother, Ben, owners of HomeTech Industries, 2507 Plymouth Road, sent a check in the amount of $7,036.18 to the city and Erick Herrin, the attorney representing the city in this matter, to cover fines accrued while buildings at HomeTech were out of compliance with the city building code.

The check, signed by Ben Paduch, was received in Herrin's office on March 28.

Just over two weeks ago, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided it would not hear the case. An appeal of Washington County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Seeley's ruling from two years ago was denied by the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville in November.

Herrin calculated that, as of April 1, the Paduchs would be liable for $7,036.18 in fines and any additional accumulation of fines that increase by $1.83 each additional day past that date that the total amount goes unpaid.

Because the brothers paid prior to April 1, Herrin said they actually overpaid by just over $3. In an ironic twist, that amount is tied to another Paduch controversy from several years ago, Herrin said.

In July of 2004, Paduch, then mayor, attempted to enter a Johnson City Cardinals game without paying. Paduch was not allowed to enter without a ticket and several days later he claimed during a City Commission meeting that he did not, at the time, have the $3 necessary to purchase a ticket and was embarrassed by the situation.

"We're going to be closing our file on this matter," Herrin said. "However, I'll be sure to get that $3 refunded to Mr. Paduch before the start of the Cardinals' season."

Phone calls from the Johnson City Press to both HomeTech and Pete Paduch's residence were not returned as of Wednesday night.

"We thought we were right," Paduch said of his continued appeals during a recent city election forum. "That's the way it works in this country."

The battle between the city and the Paduchs began about seven years ago when the brothers constructed a 15,000-square-foot addition and later, a 5,000-square-foot loading dock, to their business.

In August 2002, the city issued the siblings citations for violating a city ordinance by failing to get a building permit before constructing the loading dock. In November 2003, the men pleaded guilty to the charge and each paid a $50 fine.

However, the legal battle did not end there. The larger addition to the business increased the size of the building in such a way that it became subject to additional building code requirements for the installation of a fire control device, such as a sprinkler system.

The city Board of Zoning Appeals denied the brothers' request for a variance to the requirement, and Judge Roger Day subsequently ordered the Paduchs be fined $50 per day until they complied with the building code requirement.

The Paduchs appealed the ruling to Washington County Circuit Court in November 2004. Seeley there ordered that the Paduchs pay retroactive and prospective fines of $50 per day because of their failure to install a fire control device as required. The brothers complied with the building code in February 2005 by separating the buildings after an order was issued by Seeley stating they would be incarcerated if the building remained out of compliance.

Late last year, the siblings began the process to appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals in Knoxville, arguing several reasons for the appeal.

The opinion of the Court of Appeals stated that the court found no merit to any of the Paduchs' arguments and affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court.

"It's important that citizens understand that the Paduchs had several opportunities to drop this thing and also that the city didn't just spend $60,000 in legal fees to collect $7,000," Herrin said.

"It was unusual that a matter of this nature would go this far and take this long but we weren't just pursuing it because it was the Paduchs."The city has codes that must be enforced, even if it takes an extraordinary effort, and no one is above the law."When asked to place a monetary value on the man-hours and other costs to the city during this dispute, Herrin said it would be nearly impossible to calculate the exact amount but he would guess it to be numbers in the "hundreds of thousands, if not millions" of dollars."It's a drag on the organization to go through any lawsuit, especially one as charged as this one," Herrin said.

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