Locked Out

As the condo craze hits Uptown, one of its major players, Triton Development, again finds itself wearing a bull's-eye.

Condo owners in a new 24-unit Triton project known as the Washington Condominiums, at 1747 Washington Street, are grumbling about delays that have lasted for almost a year and have come without any clear explanation from Triton. Owners are also upset about changes in the design and features of their homes that were made without their knowledge.

Vanessa Bassock, who signed her contract in November 1997 and was one of the very first buyers at 1747, said the original completion date for the building was August 1998. She has yet to move in.

"They never told us it would be a year," she says. Instead, she and other purchasers, who paid anywhere from $147,500 to $199,500, have been strung along since the project broke ground in the spring of 1998. "Another builder said the project should have been done in nine months."

Giovanni Greco and his wife, Kristen, purchased their condo from Triton in September 1998. Ten months later they were homeless, bouncing between hotels and friends' houses. "This is supposed to be the happiest experience of me and my wife's life," Greco says. "It's been nothing short of horrific." Like other condo owners in the building, the Grecos have been confounded by a string of letters that Triton Development has sent them over the last eight months, especially a gibberish-laden one from late March.

* December 1998:
"We feel confident, barring the normal delays in a construction project, that the building will be completed mid-March," the first letter promised.

* March 30, 1999:
"Your first walk-through has been scheduled for a time to be determined at a later date at a time to be determined at a later date, the second walk-through is a time to be determined at a later date at a time to be determined at a later date, and your closing will be on May 14, 1999 at a time to be determined at a later date. These are only estimates."

* June 3, 1999:
"Your closing will be on June 25, 1999, at 8 a.m."
* June 29, 1999:

"Permission to occupy the 1747 Washington units should be granted no sooner than July 7th and no later than July 9th."

By July 20, the Grecos were notified of a new closing date for the eleventh time (five were in writing). "It's looking like that may not happen," Greco observed then. "I'm fearful, unfortunately." (The Grecos finally closed on their home on July 26.)

Why the delays? No one seems to know.
Triton is a Denver-based developer with projects all over the metro area. Owners Bill Lyons and Michael Hilbert didn't return phone calls from Westword, but claims of unprofessional conduct have hounded Lyons for years.

In the early 1990s he was accused of short-shrifting subcontractors in Southern California and left a large apartment complex there half-finished. Units of a hillside condo development in Commerce City that Triton has constructed since 1996 are slowly shifting downhill; residents filed a suit last fall claiming that Triton workers didn't adequately compact the soil underneath their homes ("A Lot of Trouble," September 24, 1998). And a condo project in Westminster was such an eyesore of poor construction that the city stepped in with a lawsuit to spend a $30,000 warranty bond from Triton--essentially a security deposit that contractors put down with a city to make sure they finish their jobs--so that its planning department could make repairs itself. That suit is still pending.

Last summer, neighbors along the 1600 block of Humboldt complained to the City of Denver that a proposed Triton condo project was massively overscaled to the small Victorian homes with which it would be sharing the block. Residents locked horns with Triton for months and eventually appealed to the city with a little-known zoning clause that requires similarly zoned adjacent lands to be compatible with each other. The city council later issued a moratorium on new construction in the area, and late last year, Triton substantially redesigned its project.

In addition to the Washington Condominiums and the Humboldt project, Triton is developing two more townhome/condo projects in Uptown: Pearl of the City, at 1727 Pearl Street, and the Mansion, at 1415 Washington.

One city official who has had extensive dealings with Triton has only good things to say about the company. "Every time a developer comes into the market, they have a learning curve we help them get over," says John Koswan, a program manager with the city's Community Planning and Development Agency. "Now they are doing good projects. Everything is working great."

Nevertheless, in May a group of buyers at 1747 got together and pressed Triton for a meeting to air their concerns. "If they had been more proactive in their communication and been more professional in the way they run their business, we probably never would have had this meeting," says buyer Lisa Shipman. While the meeting left some of the newer purchasers pleased, most of the attendees had been through months of delays, and they left the meeting again dissatisfied with Triton's promises.

Triton called for a second meeting last month but then canceled it, claiming that the issues that remained to be resolved were individual ones, not collective. So on July 12, buyers hand-delivered a letter to Triton reiterating their concerns.

According to the letter, many of the features the buyers thought they were getting with their homes--which range from 1,025 square feet to 1,274 square feet, according to a Triton sales sheet--had changed. A standard brass-and-glass chandelier was neither. Gas-powered water heaters that several people thought were standard were replaced by electric versions that generate more in energy bills annually. (Triton did agree to provide a credit worth half the difference.) And a fireplace that was supposed to occupy the end third of a wall in one unit, leaving the rest for a giant entertainment center, has been shifted to the middle of the wall, which makes the entertainment center far less functional. (The purchasers of that unit received an estimate that it would cost $1,500 to redo the wall.)

The Grecos went to do a walk-through on June 22, but the floors weren't even in and no finishing work had been done. "Needless to say, we were a little livid." They stormed down to Triton's office. Hilbert was gone, but Lyons was in. Though Lyons refused to see them, he agreed to pay the penalty for extending the couple's loan from the mortgage company. And he agreed to pay the Grecos $80 a day for living expenses from June 28 until the final closing date.

"The product is great. The process sucks," Greco says.
Vanessa Bassock says she knows of three buyers who bailed out of their contracts, and she heard that another four or five have already sold their units. "I really wish we never would have gotten involved," she says. "But just to spite them, we're not leaving."

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T.R. Witcher

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