By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
As for the $140,000 in delinquent property taxes on the project, Henderson says that's merely an oversight. But by Tuesday — three days before the final deadline — the Denver treasurer's office had not yet received the payments for the company's properties.
The overdue property taxes are not the city's only concern with the Welton Street Properties addresses. In July 2007, a neighbor called 911 to report a man lying unconscious behind the rowhouses at 500-518 Park Avenue West, prompting a response from EMS personnel and police. The next month, another individual phoned 911 at 3 a.m. to say that "many homeless people are sleeping in a vacant building" at 508 Park Avenue West and requested that an officer show up to check on their welfare. Police were called several other times on reports of suspicious persons on the property; they also detained vehicles stopped in the alley.
By June of this summer, the bungalow and rowhouses had made it onto the city's Neglected and Derelict Building List, and Inspector Anthony Sandoval of the city's Neighborhood Inspection unit was making frequent visits to the block.
"It's not unlawful to own unoccupied property," says Denver Community Planning and Development Department spokesman Julius Zsako. "However, it must be maintained, and one of the key elements of maintenance is no unauthorized access."
Sandoval cited Welton Street Properties for excessive vegetation and trash on the lots. He also noted that the rear doors of the rowhouse units had been kicked in, and homeless people were living inside. This led to the Denver Department of Environmental Health dispatching an inspector, who found human feces behind the building.
According to Environmental Health spokeswoman Meghan Hughes, the inspector then contacted the nearby Kingdom of Glory Christian Center, which sent over some outreach workers to help get the homeless to local shelters — and away from the vacant buildings. The health department posted an order to vacate on the rowhomes and the bungalow and sent notices to Welton Street Properties — at Martino's Franktown home — that the buildings needed to be properly secured. When no action was taken, an emergency board-up order was issued and city crews were sent out to cover the windows and doors with plywood. On June 20, a $100 lien for the cost of "securing of vacant and/or unsafe building" was sent to Martino. That lien was released on July 12, after payment was received.
Sandoval says he was referred to Henderson as the point person on the properties, and they met several times at the site to discuss how the problem could be mitigated. Henderson, whom Sandoval characterizes as "extremely cooperative," says he mowed the weeds, put up a fence behind the rowhouses and hired workers to haul away several truckloads of garbage. "It got to the point where most of the teams were not interested in going out on a consistent basis and keeping it up because of things that they found," Henderson says. "Needles. Ugly things that most people won't touch. We've gone out and cleaned them all up several times."
Adrian Zabolitzki knows the homeless hotel well; he has a clear view of it from the front porch of his apartment across Park Avenue West. "It seems every few weeks the cops come and clear everyone out, but then a couple days go by and it goes back to the way it was," he says. Zabolitzki thinks that whoever the "eyesore" buildings belong to "has either got to sell it or clean it up or do something with it."
Then he learns that Tom Martino is the registered agent for the company that owns the properties. "That's ironic," Zabolitzki says, gazing across the street at the houses. "You'd think that he of all people would be more forthright about keeping up their property."
If Martino is anything, it's forthright.
After working as a reporter for several East Coast TV stations, Martino began his career in Denver at CBS4 in 1981. His aggressive style quickly set him apart from other consumer reporters. On-camera confrontations featuring Martino and a cameraman surprising crooked business owners in a parking lot or office entryway became a staple of the Troubleshooter segments. His take-no-prisoners approach also found a following on his KHOW show, which he developed through the '90s as a kind of call center where listeners could get advice and help with their consumer issues. The growth of his offshoot "Referral List," an online catalogue of companies ranging from housepainters to accountants, became a concern to his bosses at CBS4, who worried about the appearance of a conflict of interest. In 1999, Martino left Channel 4 to join the new team at Fox31.
The very first story Martino did for Fox was about "a landowner who'd turned his property into a trash heap" ("Fox on the Run," July 27, 2000). He concluded the segment with the proclamation "I'm Tom Martino the Troubleshooter — and I'm back!"
He sure was. The next year he got a syndication deal with Westwood One, which sent his radio show to over 200 markets across the country. Westwood One marketed Martino as "the ultimate consumer advocate." The syndication deal ended in 2006 ("Off Mike," June 29, 2006).