Homebuyer’s Surprise: Seattle Sues After Firehouse Purchase For Residential Use

Source: Wikimedia/Joe Mabel

Thom Kroon was intrigued when he saw the ad listing a fire station that was no longer in use being offered for sale as a “unique residential dwelling”. He purchased the property in 2012 and he and his family began remodeling the property for their intended use.

Kroon and his family spent thousands of dollars remodeling the fire station and used it for an office, living space, and a gathering place for family get-togethers and holiday celebrations.

Historical Charm Of Fire Station 38

The fire station was designed by architect George Stewart for the City’s Building Department, and its design may have involved or been influenced by architect Daniel Huntington. The station was one of three built around the same time and had a unique blend of architectural styles. 

The combination of these styles – Mission/Spanish, Colonial/Revival, Neoclassical Revival, and a little Early Modern style all were combined to give the station a unique air of elegance.

Source: Seattle Fire Station No. 38 / BOLA Architecture and Planning

The Mission Style is somewhat unusual in Seattle and is more often associated with sunnier climates. Unlike the more ornate, decorative look of Mission Revival and Art Deco buildings, Station 38 is a simple straightforward design. Historians have described this style in many ways, including “Starved,” “Stripped Classicism,” “Moderne,” and “Modernistic.” The station was eventually nominated for landmark status, protecting its facade from significant alteration.

Different From Other Fire Stations

The Fire station also stood out among other active stations of the type due to its single-engine bay layout. Other fire stations of the time had a double-engine bay layout, with a single large wing, where 38 opted for a centralized bay and smaller side wings. During its time as an active fire station, this feature made it unique among other fire stations of the type.

Source: ravennablog

The unique architecture and historical significance of the building have made it an important part of Seattle history. It’s become something of a social and cultural landmark for residents, not only for its beautiful facade but also for the enduring influence of Daniel Huntington.

Symbol Of Seattle Neighborhood Growth

Fire Station 38 was the first station built in the Northeast section of Seattle, in the Ravenna / Bryant neighborhood. Before this, a wood building structure had been in use. The station was used almost continuously from 1930 until its retirement and sale to Kroon in 2012.

Source: Seattle Fire Station No. 38 / BOLA Architecture and Planning

The growth of northeast Seattle neighborhoods like Ravenna and Laurelhurst were in the beginning stages in the 1930s and the fire station provided safety and security to these growing communities.

Renovations For Private Residential Use

Alexandra Hedin and her contractor husband Adam (Kroon’s daughter and son-in-law), have turned the firehouse into their “daytime home,” where they work, cook, entertain, and spend quality time together with the family. Throughout the firehouse are areas for work and play, as well as art and decor created by family members.

Source: Kimberly Bryan/Houzz

The goal with the firehouse, said Alexandra, was to create a space that allowed her entire family to spend quality time together. “Our kids get lots of grandparent time,” she says. “They have a great relationship because of that”.

Owner Receives Notice of Violation

The Seattle resident and his family renovated and used the property for over three years to host holiday celebrations, parties, fundraisers, and office space. In 2016, Kroon received a land use notice violation from the city.

Source: Screenshot/Kiro7News/Youtube

“I thought it was sort of a joke when they said it’s still a fire station,” said Kroon. “I said, ‘Should I buy a truck?’ I mean, seriously, this is just crazy! You sell a residential property, and then you tell me it’s still a fire station?” The city of Seattle’s letter stated that a complaint about the property had been received and that a housing and zoning inspector had investigated and found Kroon in violation of the Seattle Land Use Code.

Ordered to Discontinue Work

Source: Screenshot/Kiro7News/Youtube

The city ordered Kroon to discontinue all unauthorized uses of the property, including but not limited to office and residence because the legally established use of the property is as a public facility (fire station). As his primary residence, however, this put Kroon in a pickle.

Counter-suit Gets Seattle’s Attention

Seattle’s lawsuit against Kroon was accruing penalties of $500 a day, for a total of “someplace around $400,000 in arrears,” Kroon said. He then hired attorney Clayton Graham, a specialist in land use and zoning. As Graham saw it, Kroon had every right to seek recourse. After all, if a seller sells any other type of property as a residence, and it can’t be used as a residence, the buyer can sue to recover his or her costs.

Source: Scott Graham/Unsplash

Kroon’s complaint alleges that the listing used to market Fire Station 38 was an intentional and negligent misrepresentation, and he offered a copy of the listing to prove his point. It clearly stated that the building was being sold as a “residential dwelling”… two words that clearly mean a “home”.

An Issue with Wording 

How could the city of Seattle say that a building was a “residential” structure, and then turn around and say that it wasn’t? A deeper look into the situation shows us just how this happened. The root of the issues lies in the fact that the city had hired a third-party agent to sell the station.

Source: Istock/Norme

That third-party agent listed the house as a residential structure, even adding work like “unique residential dwelling” to the listing to attract the attention of potential buyers who were in the market for a home that stood out from the cookie-cutter new constructions. It might be easy to see how this mistake happened, but who should take the blame? And how could the issue be fairly resolved?

Focusing on the Zoning Issue

It may have been the third-party real estate agent who made the wording error on the property listing, but ultimately, the city had supervisory control over that agent. They were still responsible for the misrepresentation. Someone with the city should have reviewed the listing and corrected any errors before it was made public. In this case, no one did that.

Source: Wikimedia/Joe Mabel

Once the issue came to light, residents and government officials were less interested in laying blame than they were on correcting the errors. As Graham noted, “it appears that people’s attention was more focused on solving the permitting issue.” In all likelihood, it was Kroon’s counter-suit that forced the city of Seattle to realize that they were at fault and, therefore, were responsible for the misunderstanding. That left them with only one course of action.

Seattle Drops Lawsuit, Claiming Bureaucratic Mix-Up

After hiring attorney Clayton Graham and filing the counter-suit, the city of Seattle dropped its lawsuit against Kroon. While Kroon is thrilled to have the lawsuit resolved, that doesn’t help his pocketbook that took a major hit as a result of the lawsuit.

Source: Lalit Gupta/Unsplash

Now Kroon’s focus is on recovering the thousands of dollars he had to spend on the legal battle with the city. As Graham has stated, his client spent between $50,000 and $80,000 battling the city before the lawsuit was eventually dropped. Since Seattle was at fault for the initial mix-up and the initial lawsuit was brought against Kroon based on faulty information, the city should reimburse Kroon for the staggering cost he incurred while fighting city hall.

Did Seattle Violate Kroon’s Constitutional Rights?

When speaking of the miscommunication between the city at the third-party real estate agent it hired, Kroon observed, “I don’t think the left hand knows what the other left hand is doing, so that’s kind of indicative of Seattle.” Kroon continued by adding that Seattle didn’t just bumble the wording; the city also violated Kroon’s constitutional rights.

Source: Google Maps

According to Kroon, the city-hired investigator had entered his property illegally and in violation of his constitutional rights. How did the city come to the conclusion that the building was being used as a residence? Kroon and Graham contend that the only way the investigator could have done this was if he or she came onto Kroon’s property and peered into the windows.

Seattle, We Have a Problem 

Graham has argued that the only way for the investigator to be absolutely certain as to the use of the building was to view the interior. He stated, “If this is the way the city of Seattle, or any other city, enforces their code – by coming onto property with no consent and no warrant, that’s a major problem.”

Source: Wikimedia/Joe Mabel

Today, Kroon has a certificate of occupancy awarded to him by the city of Seattle that states that the old fire house is zoned for residential use. Both he and his attorney agree that the costly lawsuit should never have happened. Had the city exercised more oversight over the third-party agents it utilized, it would have been a non-issue. Living in a former fire house is a unique experience. Kroon is just hopeful that he is done putting out red-tape fires for good.

Mission Homes Are Stunning … In California

Mission Revival as an architectural style originated in the late 19th century, meant for the revival and reinterpretation of American colonial homes. The inspiration was drawn from late 19th and early 19th century Spanish missions in California, which is why the style is more common in sunnier climates.

Source: Lordkinbote at English Wikipedia

The features of Mission revival included an enclosed courtyard, low-pitched roofs with projecting eaves, and thick arches built out of the piers. Traditional Mission style homes were created with white plaster and adobe brick, which were materials that were abundant in the Southwest, but were done away with with the advent of revival style homes.

Indicative of Many Styles, but None Completely

The firehouse’s simple architecture does away with many of the more elaborate features of many of its inspirational styles. The arches that are typical of Mission homes are not involved, nor are any of the geometric features or bold colors of Art Deco.

Source: SiefkinDR, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite this, the building is a stunner that drew attention for all the right reasons, even after its purpose was originally changed. Its unusual facade in the grand scheme of Seattle architecture makes it a conversation piece for anyone interested in building design, especially after the squabble between the city of Seattle and Kroon.

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Dawn Watson

Written by Dawn Watson

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