Sub-Title: When Desperation Becomes Our Biggest Ally
It has been said that necessity is the mother of all invention; that the very nature of needing something makes the wheels spin in a special way that is very different than the spinning of a wish or a want. Cue the segue.
The process from the closing table on April 14th to receiving our “green light” building permit to start interior renovations was a winding, arduous road. While renovating a 3-story/ 4-level Victorian building from the 1860’s is a significant project, when compared to the major development happening in the northwest, it is a small job. It is because of this juxtaposition that the six months it took for our permits to be approved felt very much like unneccessary friction. (It is bad enough that our project is under-funded).
I’M NO CONSPIRACY THEORIST BUT…
Now, I know, I know… Licenses & Inspections (L&I) is known for the snails pace but even accounting for a slow process, our actual experience made me consider conspiracy theories near the end (and I am no conspiracy theorist!). Every step of the process seemed slow, deliberately slow… my theories included:
- Am I being punked?”
- “I think maybe someone wants us to spend all of our money paying the monthly loan payment without having any work done so they can buy the building when we run out of cash!”
- “Does someone want us to never get approved?”
- “What did I do in a former life?”
Yep. The thoughts… they ran the gamut and here’s why:
Founder Keisha Whatley at the closing table on April 14, 2021. The mug and feather are symbols of her father, Ron Wandering Feather and her grandmother, Maxine Whatley; both were entrepreneurs and creatives.
THE STARTING LINE TO THE STARTING LINE…
I went through a treacherous experience with my “architects” just to get to the starting line submitting our plans to L&I on June 15th, 2021. I cracked my shoulders, stretched my legs for the journey and waited. Now, I’m not completely new to the block so I knew that the first round would be rejected and par for the course, it was…
I was still excited and wet behind the ears giggly thinking about what the ArtHaus could become for the corridor. Sleep was fleeting and when we received our rejection and modification request on July 7th, I barely felt a blip on my chin. I was ready for this!
They want a zoning update! Our plans include first and second floor commercial spaces and the second floor’s zoning was residential. They required a few doors to be fire rated, and a header schedule for the few areas that we were opening up entryways and closing stairs. No problem! Our immediate response: We updated the zoning immediately, made the additional adjustments to the plans and resubmitted on August 4th, 2021.
On August 26, 2021, they kicked the plans back again…but this time, it was an architect-error! Now, I already mentioned that our project is underfunded, right? The thousands invested in an architect/drafter would make you think that they would be sure that submitted plans were stamped prior to submission as required, right? WRONG!
In response to this rookie mistake (in my humble opinion), they scrutinize even more… basement window openings require additional information, the 1st and 2nd floor should be labeled vacant (they were labeled “Room 1, 2, etc.” so they thought they were bedrooms). Over a month after our initial submission, they request a Waste Hauler Form (a form designating who is responsible for waste removal/hauling from the site). No problem!
Our response was swift… (we don’t have time to waste! Our budget it tight…) August 29, 2021, we resubmitted our plans highlighting notes regarding the basement window openings, and 2nd floor rooms indicating vacant commercial space. Quite literally, we had to put cartoon clouds around text that was already on the plans!
A full three months after our first submissions, on September 21, 2021, L& I requested:
- An Asbestos Report because the building is old (did it take them 3 months to figure that out??)
- Updates to the Framing code noted (although it was included as a “where applicable” item),
- Page A501 (enlarged plans & interior elevations that is an unstamped page that is actually not required for permitting),
- Details regarding the infill floor opening for basement ceiling (oh, it was called out on the 1st floor plans but the inspector didn’t read the plans),
- A change to the 2nd floor bathroom layout for fire egress
So, what do we do?? … we immediately hired Viva Environmental and had an Asbestos Inspection & report conducted, the architect highlighted (read cartoon clouded) the 1st floor call out for the stair infill plans, changed the 2nd floor bathroom and mechanical room layout and, and removed A105 page from sheet list. We resubmitted on October 11, 2021.
I began to wonder why the same plans are being kicked back for a different reason each month. The issues that the Inspector is finding in August were there in June! We are not modifying the plans each time and adding new things that they are finding… oh, no! They are telling us to fix the top right corner then waiting a month to tell us to fix the bottom left corner… of the same plans!! But what can we do?
Everyone in real estate development that we talk to tells us “that’s just the way it is…” When people excitedly ask us “When will you be open?” and we inhale deeply, try to relax our shoulders and twist our eyebrows, “We are just waiting for our permits to be approved. Once we get that, we can get to work and I can give you a real answer!” I always walked away from those conversations deflated; deflated but resilient.
Every cycle I would inhale deeply, try to relax my shoulders and find some semblance of hope. With every monthly reply from L&I, it was getting old. All we are trying to do is create a space that is safe, empowering and fun for the community!, my heart would scream.
The next round of feedback on October 29, 2021 gave birth to an inkling of internal conspiracy theory talk. They request that the updated 2nd floor hallway wall (added at the last round) have a fire rated wall and door. Our architect finds one half-of-a-centimeter part of newly added wall that did not have the ‘X’s indicating fire rating and updated it. Our expeditor emails the Inspector directly to request a meeting and/or a list of all items that need fixing.
On October 30, 2021, we resubmitted with the one requested update. We never received a response from the inspector.
Those seem like simple, not “nit-picky” requests and there were only two very simple requests… does this mean that we are almost done? Could it be that the Inspector sends us the final 2 edits required? I allow my shoulders to relax even more. We are heading into the holiday season; the season that I (naively) wanted the ArtHaus to open.
I start telling people that we are there; we are about to get our permits. I am asking supporters to burn their incense, their sage, pull out their anointing oil, say a prayer, sing a hymn… anything! … so we can get going on this project.
A few weeks later, on November 23, 2021, L&I requests an additional door to the 2nd floor bathroom (see change request above) and mechanical closet be fire rated. Our architect adds the fire rating to the door even though he could not find any codes that required it due to the bathroom & mechanical room doors being fire rated.
I cry. I cry a thousand tears from a chasm in my gut. I am just trying to do something positive for the community.
Why would the Inspector reply with ONE or TWO modification requests every time? We already have to wait 3-4 weeks each submission!
Why wouldn’t they tell us EVERYTHING that requires modification at once? Piecemealing it to us is so inefficient. Every month, the Inspector has to RE-orient himself with my plans. What a waste of time, energy and money! My money; tax-payer money; city money…
THE BATTLE CRY OF DESPERATION
On November 24, 2021, I resubmit with updates as requested but, this time, I am desperate.
Everywhere I go, I am talking to people about our L&I woes; it transformed into more than complaining. I was a panelist and judge at a youth gun-violence symposium and every panelist at my table got an ear-full about the project and our L&I woes.
We swapped business cards, and one woman in particular from Councilmember Cherrelle Parker’s office, Tascha, encouraged me to send her an email about what’s been going on. I did… it forced me to relive the process. It was no fun.
I also started looking into who the ArtHaus’ Councilmember is… Councilmember Bass! Ya see, I had never thought to connect with any politicians; not because I have any ill thoughts about politicians; I just never had a reason to and honestly never knew what they were supposed to do for me. I remembered that someone in my network had experience connecting with Councilmember Bass and I reached out to them. They encouraged me to contact her.
I did. I called Councilmember Bass. I took a big gulp; uncertain if she would take my call or care, and when she not only answered my call but asked me to send her and overview of “what’s been going on.” I hung up the phone and finally released some of the very deep breaths I had been collecting. Should I be excited? Should I allow myself to be expectant again??
Now, I am not gonna lie. My optimism reserve was very close to empty. The rollercoaster ride had taken it’s toll on my mental and emotional health but I allowed myself one more good deep breath and lifted my chin again to the sky. She was forwarding my issue to the Commissioner of L&I! …and she requested that I reach out to her if I don’t get a response in a week. Say less!
The week came and went with no response but at least this time, I had an action that I could take. I circled back to Councilmember Bass and she assured me that we should hear something soon.
It was a Thursday right before my family & I were heading out of town for an overdue extended holiday vacation. My two team members were in the studio with me. We were starting a meeting when the email popped up. I took a deep breath and considered opening it. I asked my team, “Should I open it now or after our meeting? If it is not good news, I don’t want it to impact our meeting (because I am gonna be pissed) haha..”
“Where is my sage? I’m gonna burn some.” I said. One team member gave me her worry stone and the other started to pray. When I opened the email and logged in… my arms shook, my heart started pumping fast…
“Ready for Issue” I refreshed it a few times. My legs started shaking. Is this saying what I think it is saying?
I screamed. I jumped. Then I cried. It has been said that when we experience victory that we simultaneously experience the mountain’s failures, frustrations and challenges that have been overcome along the way. I felt it all. The weight of the breaths held inside over the prior 6 months landed on my shoulders. The long nights tossing and turning with worry about if we would ever be able to get started.
My desperation became my biggest ally. It caused me to think outside of my normal solutions toolbox. It gave me an opportunity to request help from new places. It taught me that leaning on others makes a huge difference; sharing what I am dealing with can lead to real life solutions and support.
I wanted to share this experience in order to give our supporters some insight into the process we have experienced over the last year or so but also as a way to publicly say “Thank you” to Councilmember Bass and ensure that the community is aware of how she helped our project! We are not out of the woods yet but Councilmember Bass’s help made it possible for us to continue moving forward!