August 11, 2010 in City

Permitting perils sink Muzzy Mansion dream

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Mike Schultz, left, and Steven Sanford have done most of the refurbishing of the Muzzy Mansion, the historic home in West Central that was built by one of the city’s early homesteaders, Hiram Newton Muzzy.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Map of this story's location

When Mike Schultz and Steven Sanford first laid eyes on the Muzzy Mansion, “it just sang to us,” Schultz said.

Now, after more than three years, $70,000 in expenses and thousands of hours spent restoring the landmark home, the song is ending on a sour note. Schultz and Sanford have listed the West Central mansion for sale and are leaving town, after a battle with bureaucrats that left them “feeling railroaded by the city of Spokane into financial ruin and homelessness.”

If it doesn’t sell soon, it will fall into foreclosure.

For most of this year, Schultz and Sanford have been engaged in a conflict with various city departments over their failure to get permits for renovation work, among other things, for the bed and breakfast. Inspectors have some legitimate safety concerns with the mansion, a Queen Anne Victorian built in 1889. But the conflict has been marked by baffling failures of communication on the part of the city.

The homeowners were granted a business license, then told by the Fire Department that the license was no good. They say they were told by representatives of two city departments that a resolution could be in the offing – only to have the building declared “unsafe for occupancy” by two other departments. Most recently, they believed their attorney had worked out an agreement that could allow the business to reopen – only to be told by inspectors that the city attorneys did not speak for them, Schultz said.

“We have felt heartbroken, angry and exhausted, and we’ve gone through a grieving process of knowing that we’ve lost the house,” he said.

So now, instead of having a historic gem open for business, there’s another for-sale sign in a yard.

Bob Apple, a city councilman and legislative candidate, said it’s an unfortunately common story. When presented with a problem, he said, city staffers climb into a bunker and defend themselves, rather than working to find a solution. In a letter to the homeowners, he described it as “another classic example of our City abusing its authority and responsibilities.”

Schultz and Sanford acknowledge they failed to get the proper permits for work they describe as mostly cosmetic. They say that, as do-it-yourself restorers who did virtually all the work themselves, they simply didn’t know they had to. Schultz notes that they approached City Hall in 2009 to seek permits and licenses; had health inspections; had the mansion listed on the historic register; and registered for an IRS tax number as a business. They were granted a business license in October; they were not confronted over the construction permitting until February.

The men shut down the B&B in May, when the city building and fire departments deemed the mansion “unsafe for occupancy.” In the ensuing months, the failure to resolve the matter has put Schultz and Sanford on ever-more-precarious financial ground.

“We continued in good faith for as long as we could afford to live here,” Schultz said. “We stopped being able to afford to live here last month. That’s when the mortgage payments stopped.”

They sold off most of their antiques, had a yard sale last weekend, and are getting ready to move to the Seattle area.

City officials said they were seeking to address questions of public safety, not hamstring the project. Electrical work done by the homeowners was already walled in, for example, so inspectors couldn’t tell whether it was safe or not without opening a wall to see.

“This is different from just making repairs in your own home,” said Marlene Feist, city spokeswoman. “When you’re going to use your home location as a business and invite people in as guests, that should be a trigger for you to make sure all the code requirements are met.”

Feist acknowledges that the city could have “coordinated our advice better.” Officials are now reviewing city procedures for handling similar situations – the complaints from the Muzzy Mansion’s owners are one among many, according to Teri Stripes, business and development coordinator for the city.

Stripes is leading the review of “change of use” procedures, which apply when property owners seek to shift the use of a historic or existing building. Such changes often trigger modern code requirements, and property owners can face tens of thousands of dollars to put in a sprinkler system, for example.

“Our customers are telling us this is very challenging,” she said.

Challenging would be a nice way to put it in the case of the Muzzy Mansion.

The grand home at 1506 W. Mission Ave. was built in 1889, by homesteader Hiram Newton Muzzy. Over the past half-century or so, it had been chopped into apartments, plastered over, hidden. Since 2007, Schultz and Sanford worked every day to restore the original floor plan, research the history, and furnish the home with appropriate antiques. You can see the impressive work for yourself at muzzymansion.com.

“We saved it because we wanted to be able to give it back to Spokane,” Sanford said.

Instead, they feel as if Spokane’s government simply took it away.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@ spokesman.com.


There are 18 comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email