After court win, Ferndale halts work on towering Main Street house

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 2, 2014 

FERNDALE - For the past decade, city employees could watch from City Hall the construction of an unusual - and, officials said, illegal - house just west of them on Main Street. Residents have walked into the city offices to ask what is being done about the house, which had gone unfinished and mostly unpermitted since 2005.

City officials finally have an answer for inquiring citizens. Community Development Director Jori Burnett took steps on May 27 to halt construction of Art and Margaret Rojsza's house at 2147 Main St., and to have the property cleared of debris and other waste left in the yard.

"There's unpermitted work up there that needs to be removed. It's unsafe," city spokesman Sam Taylor said.

Art Rojsza had called his towering residence "Artur Court," after a famous 14th century building in his home country of Poland. (Rojsza said more recently that he had gotten away from that name and now just calls the building a "clock tower.") People in Ferndale have likened it to the house on the 1960s television show "The Munsters" or the bizarre Winchester mansion in California.

But city officials declared it an eyesore when they issued a notice to the Rojszas that the yard needed to be cleaned up within 30 days. The May 27 notice listed six violations of the city's nuisance code, including five separate instances of "unhealthy or unsightly" materials in plain view from the street. These included a cement mixing drum, a pile of brick debris, an overhead projector, a baby carriage and the top half of a mannequin.

Rojsza can either appeal the nuisance order within 10 days or clean the property within a month. Failing to meet the 30-day deadline would result in a fine of $1,000 a day.

The city had already fined Rojsza $6,000 during the long-running dispute over the home's status, Taylor said.

In an interview on Monday, June 2, Rojsza said the city is not motivated by the ugly appearance of the property or the safety of the building. Rojsza's son, Norbert, ran against Mayor Gary Jensen in the 2011 elections.

"The city is trying to paint us as some kind of unreasonable nuisance," Rojsza said. "This is very personal with some individuals, and we will try to prove it."

Officials' more persistent concern over the past several years has been the building itself, with its distinctive unfinished clock tower with a turret-like railing on the south end. Rojsza began construction in 2005 without a building permit, according to a summary written by the state Court of Appeals.

The city won the latest legal battle with Rojsza in appeals court. The judges on April 7 tossed out an appeal originally filed by Rojsza in 2011, when he challenged the city's decision that he needed to get a new building permit and post a $30,000 bond to ensure that some of the work would be done. Rojsza had obtained a permit after being threatened with criminal charges at the end of 2009. Construction after that went beyond the scope of the permit, according to the city.

The city followed up its victory in court by revoking Rojsza's building permit once and for all on May 27.

"We've always maintained since 2011 that the permit has expired," Taylor said.

Rojsza said he is appealing the latest court decision.

"We strongly believe that the city had no reason to revoke our permit again, just like last time," Rojsza said. "We feel that we've done all the right things."

Taylor said Rojsza is not allowed to work on the house until the appeal is resolved. Rojsza and a crew were putting siding on the house as recently as "one or two months ago," Taylor said.

Rojsza's appeal would go before the city hearing examiner - where the original appeal was heard more than two years ago.

"It will be at least months before this is resolved," Taylor said.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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