Huge clock tower atop Ferndale home draws attention, but it's legal

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 11, 2011 

FERNDALE - The house Art Rojsza is building at 2147 Main St. has been called many things. With its enormous clock tower and evolving façade, conventional isn't one of them.

Rojsza doesn't even call it a house. He'd prefer that it be referred to as Artus Court, a building in his home country of Poland that inspired him when he bought the home in 2002. The project is both a reminder of home and a symbol of American possibility.

"Simply put, what I am building is a monument to freedom," he wrote in an e-mail. "It represents what hard work, creativity, perseverance and dedication to your dreams can mean."

The city has gotten questions about the house since Rojsza began remodeling a few years ago, but those questions have increased since the neighboring property was cleared, making the home more visible.

"We get a significant number of questions," said community development director Jori Burnett. "Many of them are curious as to what the future use of the site is. ...Some have wondered whether or not the building is being built to code."

The city began working with Rojsza on permitting in late 2009 when they noticed substantial changes he was making to the roof of the home, which is about 90 years old, Burnett said. The city required Rojsza to work with a structural engineer and have inspections every 180 days, and he has. Some of the work he's done has included lifting the basement and putting an addition on the rear of the house.

The house is in a unique position as far as zoning, Burnett said, because it is a single-family residence within the downtown zone. That zoning means that the house can be taller than the 32-foot limit for a single-family home. Burnett thought the house was about 45 feet tall, including the clock tower, a dramatic architectural detail that also is allowed under downtown zoning.

Ferndale resident Jeanie Brumley drives by the house often, and she doesn't mind that it's so undeniably different.

"When we pass it we refer to it as 'The Munsters' house, and we think of Lily and Grandpa and Herman and Eddie," she said of the characters from the TV show. "It certainly catches your eye."

Though the house is an expression of freedom and creativity for Rojsza, it's not without limits. Rojsza has been restricted from making constant changes to the design, and he needs to build according to approved plans, Burnett said. There was a stop-work order on the house in 2010 when it appeared the home was not being built to plans. The city expects the structure and exterior of the home to be completed this spring.

"We don't want a Winchester house," Burnett said, referring to the California mansion that was under construction for nearly 40 years. "The intent of our process is not to encourage Winchester houses but plans that have a clear beginning, middle and end, and the plans that have been submitted do have that."

While the city has heard mixed responses about the house, Brumley said she's a fan.

"My overall opinion is it's something to talk about; it's intriguing and it's going to be different and I'm not against any of that," she said. "I hope the owner is able to see his vision through to completion. I like the idea of some kind of individual expression."


READ ROJSZA'S LETTER

Art Rojsza wrote this letter to reporter Zoe Fraley explaining his background, why the project is so important to him and thanking those who have helped.

Reach ZOE FRALEY at zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com or call 756-2803.

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