CoLiving building lacks permits, residents ordered to vacate |

CoLiving building lacks permits, residents ordered to vacate

Residents of the building on Whiting Street in Grass Valley, Brittany Nash (left) and Shelly Bianchi, pose in one of their rooms in this archive photo.
Ivan Natividad/ |

Residents currently living in a building owned by the CoLiving Network are being asked to evacuate by Dec. 29 because the city says they have not approved the building for residential use, and that it was illegally converted from a building designed for commercial use, into a residence.

“If they wanted to have it as a residential dwelling unit they had to come in and get permits and design it that way and construct it that way,” Grass Valley Community Development Director Tom Last said. “It’s zoned for residential, but the building is designed for commercial purposes, not living, and it needs to be modified to meet residential standards not commercial standards, for living.”

On Dec. 19, Last officially notified CoLiving director Greg Zaller that his Whiting St. building located in Grass Valley did not have the valid permits and approval from the city to run as a residential structure. The building was red-tagged with a caution notice deeming the building a “dangerous structure for residential use,” giving the residents 10 days to find a new home.

“To tell you the truth, I thought that no permit would be needed,” Zaller said. “… It is as safe as any home, albeit an unusual one. No one can say at this time what is even needed to make it okay. Why scare everyone out in 10 days over the holidays when there is little I can do? We are just trying to do some good by giving people the means to build back their lives.”

CoLiving Network, a series of homes in Nevada County where people in recovery from drugs or alcohol can live to stay clean and sober, was founded by Zaller, a former home-builder turned nonprofit entrepreneur, who runs the program through his educational group, Creative Learning Adventures.

On Dec. 17, after a former resident of the building requested police to accompany her to retrieve her belongings from the building after she had moved out, the city was notified of possible fire safety violations.

The following day Grass Valley Fire Marshall Jeff Wagner issued Zaller an inspection notice that highlighted five different safety corrections he needed to make in the building within 24 hours, or be asked to vacate the building. Code violations included a lack of smoke detectors in sleeping areas, carbon monoxide detectors, and an additional fire extinguisher.

“The fire department’s saying no open flames in the building also, so that includes candles,” Last said. “Because of the way it’s designed with no fire sprinklers, we’re saying we’re going to allow you to stay there but these are the minimum things you need to do now, as you’re looking for a new place for them to live.”

Zaller said he has abided by the safety code and corrections, but says the city has yet to fulfill his request to remove a tree that fell onto their property several weeks ago, which is blocking the side exit of the building. Last, though, says the tree is not currently a safety issue, and that it is unclear whether it is the city’s responsibility to remove the tree, or a neighboring resident.

The building, formerly used as the city’s Interfaith Food Ministry and also known as the Pick and Pan market, houses women only and first opened for residents in September. Residents applied to live in the building and are charged $300 monthly for a room and use of a common kitchen, laundry and living room areas that include television and Internet access.

Currently the building is occupied by four women who refer to the building as a sober-living environment, and although former residents of the structure have described issues they have had with the building’s living conditions, current residents like Shelly Bianchi say the building is a great living environment that they have learned to call home.

“I love it here,” Bianchi said. “I’m not on the streets, I’m not getting high, I’m in a good environment. I got good people I live with, there is never any violence in this house ever. I got out of jail went to my boyfriend’s house and came here, and I’ve been clean ever since.”

Brittany Nash, a resident in the building, says she is currently two months pregnant and had previously been on probation and sought help to change her life around. Nash said she wasn’t getting the help she needed until she joined CoLiving in September.

“They’re asking all of us to leave now, so I’m freaking out because I’ll be back on the streets doing the same thing,” Nash said. “This program basically saved my life, it really works.”

Last, though, says the building is set up like a big open space with room partitions created by PVC pipe and sheets, and that Zaller needs to show the city what their residential plan and blueprint will be in order for it to be designed for residential use. If residents are not out of the building within the 10-day request, the city may impose administrative penalties up to $1,000 a day per violation.

“We’re saying that it’s allowed for residential use in that zone, but it has to be built to meet residential standards not commercial,” Last said. “Mr. Zaller has collected rent from them so it’s partly his responsibility. If he has any problem relocating them he can contact the county social services department. We’re giving him what he needs to know to help them.”

Zaller, though, says that it is the city’s fault that there aren’t enough services and housing for recovering drug addicts and homeless people in the area, and they should bare some of the responsibility for shutting down a building he is using to remedy the issue.

While Zaller says he will back any of his residents who wish to stay in the building beyond the 10-day order, he says the residents don’t want to get involved in any confrontations with the city. In the hopes of finding a new home to live in by Dec. 29., residents of the building will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday this week, to let people come in and meet them.

“I don’t want to fight but I will not back down if pushed to evict innocent people onto the street,” Zaller said. “I am still trying to wrap my mind around all of this. The plan had already been to have a thrift store in the front so making a big one and not fighting with government could make sense.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email or call 530-477-4236.

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