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Historic house’s owner clashes with neighbors over bed-and-breakfast plan; Napa punts decision
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Historic house’s owner clashes with neighbors over bed-and-breakfast plan; Napa punts decision

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One family’s “restoration of a historic home” is the neighbors’ “unchecked tourism” – and Napa land-use officials have called timeout on the dispute.

A plan to convert the George E. Goodman Jr. house, which has stood at 492 Randolph St. for 129 years, into a 12-room bed-and-breakfast inn is on hold after the city Planning Commission delayed a decision on granting permits to the Theodorides family, who acquired the Queen Anne Victorian mansion three years ago.

The postponement came amid sharp resistance from neighbors in the Napa Abajo-Fuller Park district who warned of a de facto hotel in a building that for decades hosted seven apartments – and pointed to allegations of illegal short-term rentals at another home they own in the area.

“You can’t have a neighborhood without neighbors, and to mine the district as a theme park is fundamentally wrong,” David Graves told commissioners of the district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, at a hearing this week. “We’ve crossed the line of having enough ‘urban sophistication.’ This is an egregious example of Stewart’s Law of Retroaction, that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”

Another opponent, Emanuel Volakis, questioned whether the Theodorides should be allowed any building permit on the Randolph Street landmark, pointing to apparent notices from Napa County of violating restrictions on renting out homes for fewer than 30 days at a time.

Documents shared with the commission before Thursday’s meeting indicate code violation notices for “transient occupancy use” at properties owned by Patty Theodorides, whose family lives in San Francisco and Napa. Theodorides received enforcement notices for a residence in the 1100 block of Olive Hill Lane on Jan. 21, 2016, Sept. 7, 2017, and Nov. 30, 2018, according to a letter written by Linda St. Clair, compliance supervisor from Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services.

Despite such attacks from Old Town residents, city planners resisted calls to block a B&B outright, saying the high cost of renovation would scare off those who otherwise might change it back to a single-family home or apartments.

But neither did the commission immediately clear the way for the Theodorideses, instead urging the family to return with more detailed plans to ensure an inn will meet building codes and won’t overburden nearby streets with the parked cars of guests. In particular, planners advised its owners – Kiki Theodorides, her brother George and their mother Patty – that a less tightly packed layout with fewer rooms probably would be required for city approval.

“The rules are not intended to help circumvent the rules on hotel development downtown, and I get a taste of that here,” said Commissioner Alex Myers. “Some of the neighbors’ concerns about pushing boundaries give me pause.”

Still, after some residents called on the Goodman house’s owners to consider returning the structure to apartments, commissioners quickly shot the idea down.

While the Goodman House hosted multiple tenants for more than 80 years, its condition already was declining before it was damaged in the 2014 earthquake, said commission member Gordon Huether. Even in the late 1980s, he recalled, “it looked like it was melting; I always looked at it and thought: who will be nuts enough to buy it?”

Considering the money already pumped into the project – at least $1.5 million by Kiki Theodorides’ estimate – the family should be allowed to pursue a use that can make back their investment, Huether told audience members.

“It’s not criminal or sinful to have a profit motive,” he said. “What I see is someone willing to take on the financial risk to restore one of the most beautiful homes in Napa.”

“We’d probably be forced into a position to flip it, to sell it,” said Kiki Theodorides when asked how the family would react to a rejection of their bed-and-breakfast conversion. The family paid $1.3 million to acquire the landmark from Charles Knill in April 2016.

Because the Goodman House’s division into multiple dwellings does not conform with Old Town’s single-family zoning – and because no tenants have lived there for more than a year – the city would require its owners to apply for a rezoning for any future apartment use, adding another delay to its revival, said senior planner Michael Allen.

In the end, four commissioners (Beth Painter was absent) agreed to defer a decision on the Goodman house’s restoration, pending further details. No date was set for a new vote.

Built in 1890, the house is named for the son of George Goodman Sr., who founded the First Street library that bears his name. Goodman Jr. moved into the Randolph Street home with his new wife and lived there until his death at age 35 from tuberculosis in 1903.

The three-story mansion was divided in the 1930s into seven units, including one unit created by enclosing most of the front porch. Its plaster interior walls on the first floor, and the walls of the main staircase, were damaged by the South Napa quake of Aug. 24, 2014.

Reconstruction of the landmark has included a new foundation as well as new electrical, plumbing, climate control and sprinkler systems, as well as repainting and repairing dry rot, Kiki Theodorides told the Napa Valley Register in August.

This story has been modified since the original posting to correct the name of Charles Knill, former owner of the George E. Goodman Jr. house in Napa.

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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