The Seventh Circle

August 14th 2009. I remember the bright furnace of summer heat. I remember the sounds of the traffic. The Schoffmans had listed the Pauline Fjelde house for sale in May although they had no intention of selling it, not for any price. They’d also offered it for a dollar to anyone who would move it. With land at over 100K and moving costs over 50K, a sale and move were not possible. It was just another one of their arrogant games. Another expression of their visciousness and contempt. Another assertion of their toxic property owners rights.

I had seen the interior of the house in December 2008.
I don’t know why I knew I had to see the house again… something or someone put it into my mind that I should. A local realtor had to ask permission days in advance. As we discovered, the house had to be very specially prepared for all visits. I’d learned the importance of images when I took photos of the sale at 2008 Pillsbury. I still used a film camera and I took photos.

The photos are tough to look at, but important to see. The Schoffmans said vagrants put the house into this condition. Others said that thugs were hired to take sledge hammers to the walls, stairs, sinks, toilets and doors. The damage was not typical squatter or gang vandal damage. They urinated on the walls and floors and in the broken sinks and toilets.

Some liquid brown something was thrown on cabinet doors and walls. Was it coffee? old varnish? something else? “Shocking” bottles of prescription Tylenol issued to latino patients were left in plain view. The more ridiculous faux gang graffiti such as “Park Avenue Boyz” had been overpainted in blue paint.

Doors and windows were unsecured and open. Some of the locks were broken or partially removed. They could not be relocked.

The condition of the interior was much worse than in December 2008. The interior continued to be actively damaged to destroy the structural integrity of the house so it would be classified unsafe to force the wrecking permit to be approved.

It was clear that the HPC orders and inspection citations were not only ignored but were defied. Interim protection was clearly unenforceable, absolutely meaningless… providing no protection at all.

The realtor and I walked through the house. I saw the steamer trunk but could not take it. It was still imprisoned behind the knee wall in the attic … visible through a huge hole in the wall and “bars” of 2″ by 4″s. She and I were like Pauline and Thomanne lost in time wandering disoriented and traumatized through the house they had planned with architects Boehm and Cordella, lived in, worked in, gathered their family in…

A few landmarks remained…her yellow, rose and blue honeycomb tile floor, the graceful curve of a hallway, the textured glass, the trunk she’d packed for her European voyage to study Goblein weaving… they were still there but broken, brutalized and smeared with filth, filled with garbage, abandoned to destruction.

Afterward I alerted the Fjelde advocates to the condition of the house. Brian Finstad wrote:

Sent: Monday, August 17, 2009 1:01 PM

Subject: James Schoffman / Pauline Fjelde House

Dear Council Members Glidden, Lilligren, Goodman, and Schiff,

I am writing regarding concern over the efficacy of the interim protection status placed upon the Pauline Fjelde House. Recently I have noticed, the door to the Pauline Fjelde House standing wide open on a couple of occasions. On those occasions, I have called 911. The property is then secured, and yet after a short period of time, it inevitably again becomes open. Earlier this year, I went through the house with a Realtor. As I’ve mentioned before, it is indisputable that Mr. Schoffman inflicted at least some (if not the majority) of the damage in attempt to make a case for demolition. At the time we arrived, there was no need to find the keys in the lock box – the door was left completely unlocked. We also found open and unsecured windows at that time as well. Most recently, I received a call from another concerned resident who had requested a showing of the Fjelde House. On that visit this resident, both the front and rear doors were left completely unlocked. I had not been on the inside of the Fjelde House during the neighborhood tour offered by Mr. Schoffman last December; however, this particular resident had. She related to me that there has been increasing damage occurring to the property as well as mattresses, debris, and other indications of squatting and other potentially hazardous conditions.

At the time of the initial CANDO Neighborhood meeting on this matter, Mr. Schoffman related to the neighborhood the lengths he has gone through to help keep the building secure. In particular, he noted that the immediate neighbor is in his employ for basic caretaking / maintenance type duties such as the lawn maintenance and sidewalk shoveling. I myself have witnessed windows on the Fjelde House completely standing open facing this gentlemen’s residence for days on end. It baffles me how this can not be noticed if it is under careful watch. Certainly if there was any dilligence on Mr. Schoffman’s part or those under his employ to care for his property, this would be noticed. I speculate however that this may be due to the fact that security and protection of the building is not what is beneficial in advancing his case. Nonetheless, for the respect of city process and ordinance as well as the safety of the neighborhood, I feel it is imperative that he is held accountable to the provisions of the interim protection status.

Just today, I researched just what the requirements of interim protection are. The interim protection code defers to Chapter 5 87.150 of the Building Code which outlines that “The owner of any building shall, whenever the same becomes vacant or unoccupied, remove therefrom all papers or other combustible waste materials accumulated therein, and shall securely close and keep closed all doors, windows, or other openings into such building while the same remains unoccupied and shall maintain the building and premises in a clean, sanitary, and safe condition.”

Clearly, the interim protection status is being violated. The city had boarded the Fjelde House as a protection measure, and Mr. Schoffman removed those boards. I assume the removal of the boards was to avoid condemnation and boarded and vacant fee; however, by doing so, Mr. Schoffman assumes the responsibility for the safety and security of this building.

Additionally, I was not aware until today that one of the provisions of this ordinance directly relates to combustible debris. CANDO held its second annual vacant trolley tour this summer and offered Mr. Schoffman the opportunity to have the Fjelde House on that tour. The only caveat was that the building be cleared of debris (what Realtors call a “trash out”). Even the most neglectful REO properties in our neighborhood have a basic “trash out” performed prior to listing on the market. If Mr. Schoffman were truly experiencing the desperate financial hardship he claims, one would think that he would take up the opportunity to have a widely publicized marketing opportunity where literally a trolley of potential buyers are brought right to the front door – all through volunteer efforts at absolutely no cost to him. However, he declined.

Mr. Schoffman removed the city boarding on a building under interim protection status – and yet he is not keeping the building secure. Mr. Schoffman is in violation of removal of debris and other unsanitary conditions – and yet he will claim these very conditions as a justification to advance his case. Mr. Schoffman declined an amazing marketing opportunity at no cost to him – and yet he will claim economic hardship.

Many, many residents gave significant amounts of their time for the research and advocacy that led to the status of designation study and interim protection. I understand that this is not at all to Mr. Schoffman’s liking; however, he did not purchase this building for its designed purpose or zoned use. There are city required processes he must go through, among those being HPC review of the demolition (not even to mention rezoning) which includes the possibility of designation study subsequent interim protection. No one has done anything malicious to Mr. Schoffman. These are processes that come with the territory of the application for the process that he initiated; however, he highly speculated that he would be able to breeze through these processes. Simply because he does not like, or did not anticipate, these processes or outcomes does not mean that he must not be in compliance with city ordinance.

In his attempt to influence or control the outcome of these processes, Mr. Schoffman, to this point, has provided false or misleading information on numerous occasions, attempted to thwart the democratic process of the neighborhood organization, and rejected or declined offers of good will extended from the neighborhood. In other words, I have little faith that he will comply with ordinance on his own accord. I would expect someone who has sat on the MPLS Rental Licensing Review Board to be an individual who is cognizant and respectful of the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances. Previous actions and attitudes however do not lead me to have faith that this is the case with Mr. Schoffman.

So what can be done? City ordinance outlines that violations of the provisions of the Heritage Preservation Regulations may be enforced by “injunction, abatement, or any other appropriate remedy in any court of competent jurisdiction.”

I would like to know how this matter can be addressed. There are many residents who are highly interested and watchful of what is occurring at this property. As I mentioned before, many, many residents have devoted a great deal of time and effort in advocacy for this property to have attained the status of designation study and interim protection. I strongly feel that the current lack of security, protection, and abatement of debris will occur without some type of city initiated intervention.

Thank you also for reading such a lengthy correspondence. As you know, this is an issue that is very important to myself and many other Minneapolis residents.

Respectfully,

Brian M. Finstad
Central Resident
CANDO Board Member
Minneapolis Historic Home Owner’s Assn Board Member

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