Former developer owes city $45K for barbed-wire fence

A former Gilroy developer who constructed a 9-foot-tall barbed wire fence around his home after he was savagely beaten in 2008 owes the City of Gilroy more than $45,000 in fees that started with a simple $200 citation for his out-of-code safety precaution.

In the latest chapter of a dramatic saga, the Gilroy City Council will vote Dec. 5 whether to place a lien on his Welburn Avenue home for lack of payment.

Chris Cote built the fence at the 1515 Welburn Ave. home after a report that three unknown suspects broke into the home and – according to police – duct-taped his hands and ankles and beat him with hammers and 2-by-4s. The early morning attack on June 10, 2008 – which left Cote with shattered legs, blood clots and cracked skull, Cote said – followed a controversial housing development, for which Cote was sued in two separate cases alleging he owed more than $1 million to contractors for work on a solar home project in Gilroy.

Hollister-based general contractor Al Valles sued Cote in February 2008, claiming Cote laundered his construction loan through several “sham corporations.” Cote and his lawyer dismissed this claim, saying his attackers destroyed the physical records of those companies. United American Bank, which loaned Cote $3.9 million for the project, foreclosed on the properties at Hanna Street and Gurries Drive.

Cote wrote in an email to Councilman Bob Dillon on Monday that his family built the fence while he was in the hospital for two months following the attack.

The city issued Cote a $200 citation for the fence in March 2009, giving him 60 days to pay up. Instead of paying the fine – which has grown at 10 percent interest per month – Cote has filed multiple appeals in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals against the city but has not been successful.

And challenging the city has been a costly fight. On top of $380 in late fees and almost $4,000 in administrative costs, the city has billed Cote for more than $41,000 for legal costs, according to Cote’s recent email exchanges with City Code Enforcement Officer Scott Barron. The emails are public record.

“What began as a $200 administrative fee has now ballooned out of control,” Cote writes in a Nov. 21 email. “Until a few days ago, I was never aware nor given … any notice whatsoever that my $200 fine has now been accelerate (sic) and massively increased to nearly $50,000.”

Cote added, “I thought it must be a typo.”

It’s also revealed in a Nov. 18 email that Cote, who no longer lives in Gilroy according to the email, was unaware the city had not received from him a notarized building permit application and land use application that would allow a portion of the fence to remain up as long as it’s not visible from adjacent properties and out of public view. Cote then wrote Nov. 21 he had filed the documents, but a phone call and an email to Barron seeking confirmation were not returned as of press time.

The gated home rests in what’s referred to as the Welburn Hill area, a cul-de-sac at the end of a narrow, steep, road that overlooks Gilroy. The home and the fence are not visible from the street below.

Cote wrote to Barron that the fence had been removed, but Barron said in a Nov. 4 email that a recent inspection of the property found one-third of the fence remained intact.

“He fought too long and too hard. The simple fact of the matter is the fence was illegal,” Councilman Perry Woodward said. “I’m certainly sympathetic to the concerns he had for his safety, but the law applies to everybody. And he did run afoul of the law.”

Woodward, however, said he’s not sure Cote should have to shell out more than $45,000 in penalties.

“That’s a tough one. It does seem over the top. I guess I’m waiting to hear both sides of the story to make up my mind,” Woodward said.

The Dispatch reached Cote via phone Tuesday afternoon, but he said only, “I can’t talk right now,” and hung up. Cote did not return an email seeking comment as of press time. 

The Council was set to rule on the matter Monday night, but Councilman Dillon suggested moving the discussion to the Dec. 5 meeting.

“I suggest that we punt that for two weeks or so, and give him (Cote) one more chance to plead his case,” Dillon said.

The Council voted 7-0 to approve the delay. Code Enforcement Officer Barron and Community Development Director Kristi Abrams could not be reached for comment as of press time.

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