As they drove to the top of the hill toward the lot that was for sale, the spectacular view of Chair Mountain, also known as God’s Chair, came into view. “It was the most soulful view we had ever seen,” says Steven Litz. “We knew it was the place we had been looking for, for 25 years.” They knew that their quarter century journey had come to an end; but what they did not know was that another heartbreaking journey was just beginning. For the Litzs, building their dream home in Redstone, part of Pitkin County, was a story of tears, travels, terrifying bureaucracy and ultimately triumph.
For the last 25 years, the Litzs made annual visits to Colorado to ski and enjoy the mountain lifestyle. Each year they dreamed of buying a home, retiring and spending their days taking in the beauty of the Rockies. During each visit they devoted one day to looking at homes and property for sale. In 2002, they drove to the top of Ruby Mountain Road and found the view, and the lot, they had been dreaming of for all those years.
The Litzs wanted a handcrafted log home, so after they purchased the property they went about finding a log homebuilder. The challenge was to find someone they could trust and work with from more than 1,200 miles away in their home state of Indiana. Skip Ackerman’s name kept coming up in their research. When they located him, it turned out he lived and worked in nearby Carbondale and was known as one of the preeminent log homebuilders. “He made things unbelievably easy,” says Steven’s wife, Stephanie. “He took pride in his work and wanted everything perfect.”
The Litzs also needed to find a general contractor that could manage the entire project but soon learned that their 3,000 square foot home was of little interest to most contractors in Pitkin County who were busy with larger, multimillion dollar projects in nearby Aspen. The Litz’s hopes were dashed often as they traveled from Indiana to Colorado with architect’s drawings in hand, solely to meet with potential contractors, only to be stood up time after time. The few builders that actually kept their appointments were so busy they could only afford a quick 10-minute chat regarding the Litz’s project before rushing them away, promising to be in touch.
Then they met Tim Villiere, owner of Custom Building in Glenwood Springs. “Tim spent the time to give us a fair bid. We felt like he put in the most work and gave us the best customer service,” says Stephanie. “It was my only project at that time,” says Villiere. “It was good scheduling, and I could concentrate solely on their project.” After choosing their builder and contractor, the Litz’s excitement grew, but as soon as they began the permitting process they discovered that building their dream home seemed more unlikely than it had ever been.
Although their lot was zoned and subdivided for residential development, the Litz’s were notified that because of its 34 percent grade it exceeded the 30 percent grade restriction for building a home in Pitkin County. A planning and zoning hearing was scheduled where the county was expected to deny their permit to build. However, the county regulations also stated that in such a case of denial the county was required to purchase the land back from the Litzs. If the county did not want to buy back the land, their building permit would have to be approved. So, with a glimmer of hope, Steven planned his trip to attend the hearing, at which his presence was mandatory.
Steven’s flight to Aspen was scheduled to connect through Denver in March 2003. His flight landed in Denver in a blizzard, and the connection to Aspen was cancelled. A massive snowstorm had moved into Colorado, dumping snow measured in feet. The airport soon shut down, and the roads around Denver and west into the mountains became impassable. Knowing a flight or drive to Aspen would not be possible from Denver, Steven found a hotel room and hunkered down for three days while conditions progressively got worse; the hotel ran out of food, and he learned the hearing would not be rescheduled because of his absence. Thankfully, county officials agreed to let Villiere attend the hearing on his behalf.
As Steven was stranded in Denver, the hearing went on just as they had expected. The Pitkin County planning and zoning officials denied the permit to build because of the steep grade, then ruled not to buy back the land and subsequently granted the permit to build. Thus the building was cleared to begin, except for a few more requirements that seemed rather silly to the Litzs. There was the elk migration study that had to be conducted, to which the Litzs responded that because of the steep grade the “only way for elk to migrate through our property is to fly.” Also, there were the lighting regulations, which were 50 pages long, as well as the road use fee that has the Litzs, who don’t own a car in Colorado, paying the same fee as a family with six cars because of the size of their driveway. “We had so many warnings about building in Pitkin County,” says Stephanie, “but we thought that if there’s a will there’s a way. Now I say I would never build in Pitkin County again.” The Litzs say they understand the importance of the regulations for homes in Aspen, but it is difficult to see the logic for their home in a rural, remote area.
Once they were finally cleared to build, the Litzs enjoyed watching their
dream take form. Ackerman handcrafted the logs from dead standing timbers and assembled the home in his yard, then disassembled, transported and
reassembled it at the home site. “Skip took so much pride in his work,” says
Steven. “He wanted everything perfect, and no corners were cut in building this
home.” Although the Litzs traveled often to see the progress of their new home,
Villiere kept them informed with almost daily photos and updates. “The Litzs
were great to work with,” says Villiere. “They wanted to use local businesses and
materials for as much of the work as possible.”
As the home took shape, Stephanie began the adventure of hunting for particular pieces to fill the home. “It was a labor of love,” says Stephanie. She traveled to Tennessee to pick up the custom mantle and flew it, packed in a refrigerator box, with them to Colorado. For the master bed, her search took her to the backwoods of North Carolina to a woodcrafter’s backyard workshop, where she commissioned the bed directly from the man who built it. She also shuttled her bathroom tile stuffed in her suitcase a little at a time as she made her monthly trek to the new home site. And the river rock used for the fireplace was reclaimed from the Crystal River that just happens to run near the Litz’s new home.
Finally, in January 2004, the Litzs moved into their dream home. They visit regularly, often with family and friends in tow. When asked if the 25-year journey with all the challenges of building was worth it, they both reply with a resounding “yes!” Although, they say, “We often wondered if we would ever get this house built.” Now they can sip their morning coffee on their deck while enjoying the majesty of God’s Chair. Says Stephanie, “It really gets more difficult to leave every time; it’s just us and nature here.”
Tim Villiere, owner of Custom Building
Glenwood Springs, CO
Cell: (970) 948.5463
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