Twitter Helps Fight City Hall

This crazy business adventure began with a tweet and yesterday a twitter plea could lead to the solution that helps open Nectar Tasting Room in 2010. It seems as if no business opens without some sort of opposition, struggle and set back. Budget troubles, they don’t worry me; I can mitigate the budget by making different choices. Contractors, they just require constant monitoring. Backordered merchandise just sends me back to the drawing board. Disappearing designers, there is always someone else to jump in. City red tape…

…stumped…

City code, regulation, permits, all of these things are out of my control. When the city puts the brakes on progress, it takes a lot of grease to get the wheels moving again. Going on three weeks of delays, shooting at a moving target and feeling held hostage by politics, I decided to send out a twitter plea.

“If you are a reporter looking to do a piece on the struggles of a small bus owner being held hostage by city code & regulation…contact me  via TweetDeck”

Two hours later I got a phone call from Tania Dall of KXLY 4 News. Tania wanted to meet at the future home of Nectar Tasting Room to help share the story of our struggles on the evening news. I’m not one to turn down publicity and I hoped a little nudge would help move things further along at city hall. Creating enemies is not something I want to do. I’m actually very excited about working WITH the city to move from a legalistic application of the building code to a logical compromise that aptly fits the buildings future use.

The result? Not more than an hour after KXLY left the 1889 building the city had reached out wanting to establish an open dialogue regarding our need for a building permit. A collaborative meeting is scheduled for today (Nov 10) at 9:30 AM. I’ll update this post with the result of the meeting. Watch the KXLY broadcast for the back story. I’ve also included a letter I wrote to Mayor Mary Verner’s office. So far, no response to that email…

KXLY NEWS STORY 

Dear Mayor Verner

I am a Spokane resident who is attempting to follow his dream with a business in downtown Spokane. Similar to you, I believe in our city and in spite of the depressed economic conditions, I see good things coming out of our urban core. While many buildings are boarded up, several ambitious people are investing their time and hard earned money to see an economic revival. I have recently leased space at 120 N. Stevens (1889 Building) on the corner of Main and Stevens. This portion of town is becoming an eclectic fun mix of restaurants, coffee shops, and boutique stores. I have contracted with five Washington State wineries who want to share the space as their satellite tasting room. Wineries from Kirkland to Walla Walla see the potential growth of the wine scene in Spokane. Similar developments have helped to bring new business to Woodinville, downtown Walla Walla, and Prosser WA.

The building’s previous use was for retail sales as a bridal store. The current use of the space would be for retail sales (and tastings) of the five wineries wines. I’m investing $50,000 of my own money to add to the growing downtown community. Our building requirements are minimal. We are not changing any structural walls, we are not adding any new walls or restrooms. Our building requirements, beyond the cosmetics of paint, flooring and decorating, are minimal electrical for lighting and power receptacles and a small plumbing addition for the required sinks and dishwasher.

At this point, I feel held hostage by the city. It seems as if we are being asked to bring an entire 120 year old three story building up to code just to move forward. The building has adequate restroom facilities (3 in the space that I will occupy), and there is satisfactory ADA compliance as well. At this point the requirements to meet fire code will either keep me from opening the doors for 6 months or will bankrupt me from the investment I’ve already made. Is there really a need to provide sprinklers to the entire building at the cost of $40,000? Is there really a need for four restrooms? Wineries like Barrister and Caterina are in old buildings and have not had to comply with these codes. The delays in timing are hindering my ability to open and begin recouping the investments I’ve made. The challenges we are encountering are hindering progress and development in the downtown core. I’m just about ready to give up but I believe in the future of a thriving wine scene in downtown Spokane.

I’m reaching out to see if there is any mercy to be had. If there is any assistance you and your office can provide, I would be grateful.

Sincerely,

Joshua Wade

Owner

Nectar Tasting Room

Update From City Hall

The Good News

Wednesday we had a meeting with city officials regarding zoning and building permits for Nectar Tasting Room. The meeting was a great collaboration of developing a plan and working together to ensure that progress continues and that we can move forward with opening as soon as possible. While I understand the city’s need to enforce code and regulation, I’m not in complete agreement with their logic. If this 120 year old building had spent the last five years as a restaurant or drinking establishment or coffee shop, I would not have to make ANY changes to the space, fire protection or restrooms. HOWEVER, since we’re changing from a 2600 SF retail space where no beverage is served to 2600 SF where beverages are being served we are a “change of use” and must bring several components up to 2010 code (remember, the building was built in 1889, so that could pose some interesting problems).

The following items were agreed upon between me and the city:

  • Keeping the occupant load under 99.  The table and seating arrangement shown would keep the occupant load under this threshold.
  • Provide a 2 Hour separation from the remainder of the building.  Details need to be shown on the plan.
  • Provide barrier free accessibility.  A ramp between the 2 main floor rooms was discussed and needs to be shown on the plan.
  • Provide a site plan showing existing curb, sidewalk and signage.
  • The existing restrooms should be sufficient with the reduced occupant load.

The Bad News

I appreciate the compromise and the partnership. At this point we are making additional changes to the plans and will have them submitted on 11/15. The city is quoting 20 days for permits to be issued.  THEN, the work can begin. It looks as if I will miss the entire holiday season for sales.

Obviously, this is frustrating. The lack of revenue coupled with the added expense of carrying debt for an additional 30-45 days is significantly impacting life. In the end, we’ll survive, we’ll be open and the wine will be pouring. It is so close, I can taste it! Can you?

Response from the Mayor

Above, you read my letter to Mayor Verner. I did receive a response this week from her office as well. Much of it is stock rhetoric, but the sentiment is nice.

Dear Mr. Wade, 

I’m sorry to hear of your frustrations, but am pleased to learn that things are now moving ahead!  I did get a briefing from my staff on your concerns and on the meeting that was held yesterday to review your plans.  My understanding is that you and our team worked out a number of issues, and we all now have a defined path forward.   

I do want to commend you for taking on the risk and challenge of becoming an entrepreneur.  Growing our local business base is critical for our community to rebound from the economic recession.  Please know that we are continuing to refine our permitting process to assist small business owners and to respond rapidly to concerns as they arise. 

I wish you all the best with your new business.

Sincerely,

Mary B. Verner, Mayor

City of Spokane

808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Spokane, WA  99201

(509) 625-6250

drinknectar

Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

9 comments on “Twitter Helps Fight City Hall

  1. Joe

    Crap, man. I feel your pain. I was president of an upstart fraternity back in the college days, and we were able to finally get a house during my tenure. We signed the lease in March, everything went fine moving folks in, and right before school started, we were told the house was condemned because it was not up to code. We had to pave a gravel driveway, install a sprinkler system, put lighted “Exit” signs everywhere, even install a handicap access ramp. Because of all this, 18 students were displaced to hotels and friends’ couches for 9 WEEKS. The “best interests” behind all this b.s. boggle my mind sometimes.

    Let me know when you’re ready to get a petition going (maybe you’re already on that). I don’t know if petitions really do anything, but I hope they at least make city officials feel stupid :)

    Reply
  2. Cheryl Hodgins

    Josh
    Walla Walla is defineatly more anal about their permits and the like…The 1908 building that we cleaned up was found “exempt” from several of the entrance, bathroom, sprinkler codes. Apply for heritage status. How OLD is the original building….worth a try. Infact if you can surface pix of the orginal construction and neighboring streets, present them with your petition, you will find that there is $$$$$ out there for heritage/historical renovations!!

    Reply
  3. Marlene Feist

    Hi Josh,
    We went looking for the email you sent to the Mayor and were not able to find it. If you sent it through the Mayor’s Facebook page, that goes to her campaign staff, who aren’t working full-time yet since the election is a year away.

    Please know, though, that I work directly with the Mayor and she is aware of your situation and of the meeting that has been set up with the City’s Building Official and others for this morning.

    The City does want you–and other entrepreneurs–to succeed. We do have a responsibility to equally apply building codes to ensure life-safety issues for the citizens of Spokane. We are happy you’re coming in today so we can take another look at your proposal.

    Thanks.
    Marlene

    Reply
    1. Joe

      having 3 bathrooms instead of 4 is not a “life-safety” issue.

      I know, I know. It’s code. But, c’mon!

      Reply
  4. Cecile Charles

    Considered that space before moving where we are today, the city can be a bear. I hope everything works out. You are such a go getter Josh. I wonder why the owner of the building is not being required to keep the building up to code when it is offered on the open market for any type of business to lease. Hang in there.

    Reply
  5. Catie

    What Cheryl said and she knows the crap I went through with Walla Walla. I was exempt from going 100% ADA on my bathrooms, but overall my building had to comply 20% ADA of my overall budget. Okay. No problem. Glad to comply. However, the day of my final walk-through and the day before I wanted to open, City decided I needed to do more ADA compliance additions that went beyond the 20%. When I asked why they didn’t give me the compliances earlier during the remodel, they had no answer. They didn’t care.

    The city held me hostage for almost a month before they would give me my remodel permit while forcing my landlord to put sprinklers in a basement that is no longer in use. Then the nightmare of the WLBC who wanted me to rewrite my new lease and all I was asking for was a “change of location.” The language they wanted on the lease was not legally correct and would have changed the lease (I know – this is what I did for the last 10 years). And the officer kept telling me for a week to add a name of an LLC to the lease. But the name of the LLC was not mine! After going ’round and ’round with her informing her that was not the name of my LLC and possibly someone else’s, she copped a clue. So her confusion/mistakes over a name cost me 10 days. I finally had to ask them if they would like to consult with my attorney over the legal language of the lease and they gave me my license.

    The crazy thing with this red tape is that the people who are making and enforcing really do not care. They do not go over and beyond with customer service and frankly do not care if you succeed or not. And yet – - without the revenue that a new business like yourself will bring to the community, helps provide payroll for these people. Crazy aint it? Just about every person I met along the way in these offices, no way would I hire them and give them a job. Perhaps this is why they are where they are. Pure Catch22.
    So, sorry for ranting, but basically just to let you know – - you are not alone. I am here for you and I feel your pain.

    Reply
  6. Mike Weber

    Keep on fighting Josh! I look forward to stopping by for a glass or three one day :)

    Reply
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