Caldwell and Heuberger met in December. "I stated my intention that I wanted to refile for rezoning," Caldwell says. "He said that was fine, 'You will be working with this individual, and these are the fees, and this is the planning schedule.' He told me all of this. Then, a couple weeks later after that, I got the demolition order."
The demolition order, signed by Heuberger, stated that the buildings on the site would be razed unless they were brought up to compliance with building codes. "It was dated December 2," Caldwell claims. "Our meeting had been on December 3. And he made no mention of a demolition order at that meeting. The certified mail records show that it was not mailed from El Centro until 11 days later, the 13th. I can't help but to wonder if it even existed December 2, which I doubt."
"That property," Heuberger counters, "was actually condemned nearly a year ago, much before we ever knew he existed, and certainly before he ever bought it. When we met with him, we told him what the situation was, and we told him that we were going to continue on with the condemnation, but we would certainly be able to give him some time if he were indeed the owner."
Heuberger adds, "There's no doubt that the sellers knew that it was condemned because they actually filed an appeal on the first condemnation notice, then withdrew it."
Caldwell also has filed an appeal. "But we can't honor it until such a time as he's actually the owner," Heuberger explains. "When that happens, we would commence the appeal on the condemnation. It would go to the building board of appeals."
But Caldwell proving ownership won't necessarily save Miller's from the wrecking ball. He'll have to submit plans for renovation, Heuberger says, and they'll have to be enacted quickly. "There will be time limits," he says. "And then there's the land-use issue."
Within the past decade, that area of the desert was rezoned by Imperial County as residential. Therefore, the restaurant, gas station, and service garage that once flourished on this site would be against current zoning. "That area was there prehistorically, so to speak," Heuberger says, "before a lot of the ordinances and zoning. But it's been zoned for residential use for about seven or eight years now. But he could always apply for a zone change or something like that." And, after he's proven ownership, Heuberger says he's going to need to see some definite plans for the place from Caldwell before he stops the demolition. "He's mentioned some things, but they've not been solid," he explains. "He hasn't even sent a letter that says, 'I'm going to make this a retreat or a gas station' or anything else. It's just, 'Well, I'm going to get the house restored, I'm going to redo the garage, I may do an RV storage compound, I may do this, I may do that.' We said, 'Well, first of all, it's got to be in the right zone regardless of what you do.' "
Caldwell complains that the rezoning of what is -- other than the Miller's compound -- open desert "seems so capricious and arbitrary." He uses the same words to describe the decision to raze a compound that has stood abandoned for 30 years.
"Well," Heuberger responds, "it's just gone downhill. Two years ago, that garage was virtually intact. I went out there personally about a year and a half ago, and I looked at that garage, and I thought if somebody came out here and cleaned the rest of the mess up and put a little bit of money into fixing the doors and the windows, the rest of the building was pretty good for a storage or garage-type building. But in the last 12 months the thing has been totally destroyed. It's also an attractive nuisance for migrants and people using the property for all kinds of purposes. It's a combination of being an eyesore, a public nuisance, and in violation of the codes."