Mayo vs. county in Legion Hall dispute

Lynn Burton
Post Independent Staff
Post Independent Photo/Jim Noelker

Franklin D. Roosevelt soured Bob Mayo on government during the Dust Bowl.

Mayo was a little kid on a Nebraska farm when he saw his dad round up their cattle and drive them into a freshly dug trench. Men with rifles shot and killed the livestock because the family didn’t have enough feed.

President Roosevelt had told rain-starved Nebraska farmers the government would pay them for their cattle. “Unfortunately, my dad was a Republican, and he never got a check,” Mayo said. “That broke us on the ranch, and we left. You can’t depend on the government for anything.”

Mayo told the Roosevelt story from his New Castle ranch Thursday afternoon, days after Garfield County sent him a last-ditch offer to settle building permit and zoning issues or face a lawsuit.

County officials allege the American Legion Hall Mayo built on his property last year was built without a permit and violates the zoning code.

After Garfield County building and zoning enforcement director Steve Hackett presented the information to the county commissioners May 5, Mayo calmly replied, “The facts are pretty evident.”

Mayo admits to building the 2,400-square-foot hall without the necessary county building permit.

And he admits it doesn’t meet the county’s zone district requirements.

None of that matters to Mayo.

“I believe this is my Constitutional right,” Mayo told the commissioners. “I can do anything I want with my land, if it doesn’t violate my neighbor’s integrity.

“I’m ready to fight,” he added.

He and his wife of 38 years, Naomi, live on 66 acres of pastureland on County Road 245, about two miles north of New Castle. They moved to their ranch in 1978, after Bob’s 20-year career as a contract builder in Aspen.

“We built houses for working people,” Mayo said.

One of Bob’s standing rules through those years was that project architects were not allowed on job sites.

“Ninety percent of the architects have never built anything in their lives,” Mayo said in the same quick sentence where he also questioned the need for construction engineers and planning and zoning commissions.

Looking back on his years in Aspen, working for other companies and himself, Mayo’s main regret is not fighting building and zoning codes when he had the chance.

“We should have fought, but we were working for a living and had obligations. We were enjoying what we were doing. We had a good life,” he said.

Mayo, 72, flew F-86 fighter jets in the Air Force. He stands erect, and is well over 6 feet tall. He has blue eyes, close-cropped gray hair, an easy smile and trim physique. Mayo still retains the bearing of a retired officer, even in the overalls and sweater he wears while working his ranch during these cool spring days.

The Mayo ranch is a skinny piece of green property along Elk Creek, with a big bulb of a pasture at the south end.

Mayo built a meeting hall for the American Legion on three acres at the north end, alongside County Road 245 and the long driveway that slices through the ranch.

“I designed it like an old chicken house,” Mayo said as he unlocked one of the hall’s double doors and stepped inside. “If the Legion can’t afford this building, I can store stuff in it, or raise chickens.”

The hall is simple, solidly built, and the main room can easily hold more than 100 people. The kitchen, with extra-long counters, and restrooms take up the back of the building. Decks on the east side face Elk Creek.

“It’s quiet and peaceful. People like it out here,” Mayo said.

Mayo bought the expanse of plush, light tan wall-to-wall carpet that flows from the American flag at one end of the room to the kitchen doors at the other.

“I said `We’re going to have good carpet in here, none of that indoor-outdoor stuff.’ I hated to go into meetings and see that old asphalt tile or something like that. I wanted something the Legion could be proud of,” he said.

The hall was dedicated on April 23, 2002, and more than 75 American Legion members and their guests turned out for the dinner. “Scott McInnis was here,” Mayo said, referring to the 3rd District congressman.

On the wall at the back of the hall, a signed agreement is posted, listing the conditions under which American Legion Post 164 will receive title to the property. Basically, the agreement says Post 164 has four years to prove it is able to support and maintain the property, including payment of all taxes and expenses.

Mayo jokes that if the American Legion doesn’t come through, he can always convert the hall to a chicken house.

“But I won’t have carpet on the floor.”

Mayo locks the hall door and heads up his drive to the modular house where he and Naomi live.

“She won’t let me build a house. Says if I do, I’d sell it,” he joked.

Naomi, who had been working in the pasture across from the house, followed him inside.

Bob eased himself into a chair at the kitchen table.

“You want anything to drink, Bob?”

“Nah, unless you got some hot tea.”

“We’ve got some left over from lunch.”

Naomi placed a cup of hot tea in front of Bob, then went off to do more late afternoon chores.

Later, she passed through the kitchen and asked, “Have you fed the bulls yet?” She paused a moment and added, “Then I’ll go feed them.”

Mayo’s tea went unsipped as he spent the next 45 minutes talking about his disagreement with Garfield County, squabbles with other governments and his construction career.

“I built the first four houses at Westbank in 1971 or 1972. I’d fly my plane down from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. It was cheaper than driving, and faster,” he said.

The Garfield County Planning and Zoning Commission is one of Mayo’s least favorite arms of local government. He said it tries to tell property owners what they can do with their own land.

Affecting a high-pitched, snooty tone of a theoretical female planning commissioner, he chirps, “I don’t think that’s appropriate. We have to keep that in green space.”

A split second later, Mayo leans forward and answers her in his own voice.

“Lady, if you want to keep that land in green space, get out your pocketbook, write a check and buy it yourself. Then you can do what you want with it.”

Mayo says the Garfield County Planning and Zoning Commission adds $50,000 to $100,000 to the price of a house, and all the money is wasted on bureaucratic nonsense.

“It doesn’t add value to the house, or improve the construction,” he said.

Garfield County has given Mayo until May 31 to respond to allegations he built the meeting hall without a building permit, and to acknowledge the structure needs a special use permit for groups to use it.

Despite Mayo’s cordial but firm-jawed stance with the county commissioners last week, he indicates the case won’t go to court.

He said the county is already offering to negotiate.

“In all probability, I doubt I’ll get everything I want. The county won’t get a free ride either, but it’ll never go to trial,” he predicted.

Mayo’s fight with the county includes his wife, and he chuckles in explaining his dilemma.

“My wife is a Mennonite, and is a pacifist, so she doesn’t like this at all,” he said. “She’d like for this to all go away, so I’ve been getting it from both sides.”

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.