Reviving the Sargent House
There is a great deal of deliberate misinformation being spread about this project. First, I do not own the property. I, my wife, and another partner are in escrow with a goal toward attaining a permit and financing to include renovations. We had nothing to do with the property’s sale on the courthouse steps.
Since we moved here five years ago, we have repeatedly heard what a source of vitality the Sargent House, then known as Grandmere’s, was for Nevada City. As the owners of the Emma Nevada House, my wife and I have long thought that it would be great to re-open the place and feature it’s wonderful history. Our plan is to go very upscale in amenities and marketing, making it into a significant draw unto itself.
With regard to my position as the Treasurer of Nevada City, (pay is $100 per month) I was asked to take the job when nobody else would, and because I have been a very active volunteer on many projects around town. I am on the facilities committee of the Miners Foundry; I am on the Strategic Planning Committee of the Chamber of Commerce; I have been a member of the chamber board; I have written, shot, edited and donated four different TV commercials for Nevada City that have been broadcast in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Reno/Sparks and worldwide. There’s irony that somebody who deeply cares about this city automatically comes under suspicion when they want to conduct business in town. It’s almost as if you should steer clear of engagement with city government if you ever want a permit from the city.
My track record as a volunteer and booster for Nevada City contrasts markedly with the records of my detractors. Two of them are innkeepers who somehow believe that the city should protect them from competition. Setting aside the owner of the Red Castle, the rest of this verbose group has only a record of tearing down and sniping at people and organizations that are working to improve our town. Their current behavior is habitual.
On the legal issues, I cannot pretend to be a lawyer, something that Chuck Shea, owner of the Parsonage is happy to do. I do know that when the previous owner of the Sargent House approached the city with a prospective buyer who wanted it for a B&B, the City Attorney was a young contract employee from Sacramento. The current City Attorney is an older more experienced resident of Nevada City. I personally have not had more than a one sentence conversation with him. As I understand it, the current City Attorney’s opinion is that measure G only rescinded the previous law regarding use permits, but left a blank slate for new ordinances going forward. I have read the documents and this seems pretty clear. In his editorial, Mr. Nienaber said, “Mr. Howard fully understood the rules of Measure G …” I think that’s true, within the limits of my education.
Previous editorials have referred to the previous potential buyer as “qualified.” I doubt it. In this banking climate that means that you would need 40 percent down for the entire project, very strong financial statements, and strong profit & loss statements from a current lodging that you own. There is virtually no chance of success without all these elements in place, as banks do not hold B&B’s in very high regard.
I feel compelled to comment on the characterization of the Planning Commission and the Town Council as being somehow a corrupt good old boys club. In fact these are hard working people who donate their time. I challenge anyone to show an example of any of them manipulating city government for their own gain. Their favorable response to our proposal comes from a perception that the city has been loosing lodging rooms consistently for the past several years, and that they believe that reopening the Sargent House would be good for the city.
My wife and I have seen members of the Town Council and Planning Commission literally being screamed at on the street and in their places of business, by some who oppose this project. We regret that they have had to endure these bullying tactics.
Aaron Sargent wrote the 19th Amendment, Woman’s Suffrage. I really hope that we get the opportunity to re-open and share this historic place, and I’m sorry to say that if it isn’t done by us then it probably won’t happen.
Andrew Howard lives in Nevada City.
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