Owners of the "Clock Tower" house in Ferndale react to ending dispute with city
For years, the City of Ferndale and the Rojszas have been fighting over the renovation of the couple’s Main Street house – a towering, eye-catching creation that is 85 feet tall at its spire and Seussian in spots.
Although the way Artur Rojsza tells it, he and his wife Margaret haven’t been fighting so much as defending themselves.
Still, the legal dispute that has stretched on for nearly 10 years over the house at 2147 Main St. – a permitting issue that focused on how the International Building Code should be interpreted, the city said – seems to have come to an end, with the Washington State Court of Appeals ruling in the city’s favor in December.
The Rojszas didn’t file an appeal.
“We choose not to appeal the final decision. We could, but we choose not to because it’s not productive at this point,” Artur “Art” Rojsza said Friday, while sitting at a table in the home, which the Rojszas have named the Clock Tower.
“The point is, the building stands,” Art Rojsza said.
The city said the dispute over the permit has been resolved now that the Rojszas’ window for appeal has closed.
Both sides have struck a conciliatory tone.
I believe that the Rojszas will continue to work on their house, which is obviously a labor of love. We hope that any future developments go through the proper permitting steps.
Riley Sweeney, City of Ferndale spokesman
“The dispute over their original permit is resolved,” Ferndale spokesman Riley Sweeney said. “I believe that the Rojszas will continue to work on their house, which is obviously a labor of love. We hope that any future developments go through the proper permitting steps.”
In its announcement, the city said it was pleased with the couple’s progress on the house and would work with the Rojszas on their existing permit to complete the development of the spire.
The Rojszas said the city’s announcement indicated it wouldn’t stand in their way as long as they followed the law.
“We appreciate and we take seriously this declaration by the city,” Art Rojsza said.
The house, located behind the Ferndale Library, has attracted a great deal of attention and controversy over the years.
People in Ferndale have likened it to the house on the 1960s television show “The Munsters” or the bizarre Winchester mansion in California. Some like it. Others hate it. In its December ruling, the Court of Appeals likened the Clock Tower to the Winchester.
“In 2005, the Rojszas began remodeling their house without a permit. They have been continuously remodeling their house ever since, exceeding the scope of every permit that the city has issued,” the ruling stated.
“The house itself displays an array of ever-changing features and most notably includes a large clock tower,” the ruling said. “The scene is reminiscent of the famous Winchester house in California, which was under construction for nearly 40 years.”
The court ruling essentially reinstated $25,000 in penalties against the Rojszas and $10,805 in attorney’s fees for the city.
For their part, the Rojszas said they tried for years to obtain a permit from the city, adding that some of their work didn’t require a permit.
The city has stepped in over the years to restrict the Rojszas from making constant changes to the design of the house. There was a stop-work order in 2010 when it appeared the house wasn’t being built to plans. In May 2014, the city ordered a halt to construction because of unpermitted work and ordered the property be cleared of debris and other waste left in the yard.
In November 2014, the city’s former insurance carrier settled three federal lawsuits filed by Art Rojsza for $130,000 in exchange for him dropping the lawsuits. He accused the city of harassing him, including with notices of violation for the remodeling of the Clock Tower.
On Friday, the Rojszas, like the city, indicated they wanted to move forward.
The exterior of the house looks like it’s pretty much completed. Inside, it remains a work in progress.
They call the project a sabbatical, a hobby, an artistic expression. The Rojszas, who are construction professionals, said they work on their house between other building projects.
They’re happy to acknowledge its unusual height, allowed because their house is in the city’s downtown zone.
“It’s absolutely, totally crazy,” Art Rojsza said. “Why not keep life weird?”
They take visitors out the front room, up some stairs and to the top of the house. Margaret Rojsza points to the “Back to the Future Clock,” named because the fake clock is set at 10:04 in an ode to the same time in the movie series, when lightning strikes the clock tower and Marty McFly travels back to 1985. The smaller tower in the back, the couple call “Little Brother.”
There are spots on the side of the building where doors have been installed, but they function as windows. There are red bricks from a demolished school and two female figures named Lady Liberty and Lady Justice. Materials have come from places like the RE Store and Habitat for Humanity.
“Every single piece around here has a meaning,” Art Rojsza said.
In the spring, when the weather is better, the Rojszas, who are Polish immigrants, said they will throw a pierogi party featuring the traditional Polish dumplings. Supporters are invited, so are haters, they said, and all will be friends.
“The clock tower stands,” Art Rojsza said. “We are looking forward to the pierogi party.”