A funny thing happened when WW called the Columbia Gorge home owned by Geoff "Buff Daddy" Thompson.
"Hello, View Point Inn," Thompson's partner Angelo Simione answered when WW called Feb. 3.
Sounded like they were running a business, and that's curious, because Multnomah County says they're not supposed to be until they get a permit—which could take nine more months.
No, there's no law that dictates how you can answer your phone. But Thompson and Multnomah County planners are currently at odds over how the historic property can be used until it's fully permitted for commercial use.
The dispute is only the latest chapter in Thompson's decadelong saga to reopen the historic Columbia Gorge Inn, which in the 1920s and '30s hosted such bigwigs as the queen of Romania and Charlie Chaplin.
Thompson's past efforts to reopen the inn left behind a history so "colorful" that Thompson was once barred from entering county buildings without a sheriff's escort because he couldn't control his temper (see "Buff Daddy," WW, Sept. 29, 1999).
This most recent chapter began in November, when the two-state Columbia River Gorge Commission issued a new Gorge-wide rule allowing historic properties to be developed commercially, handing Thompson and Simione an initial victory. Multnomah County now has nine months to hold public hearings and workshops before approving the changes. (County officials say they're committed to speeding up the process as much as possible without cutting corners.)
Assuming all goes well, Thompson and Simione could apply for a permit to turn the 4,100-square-foot house with a panoramic view of the Columbia into a business. But Thompson hasn't been willing to wait, according to county documents.
Planners have scolded him several times over the past year for holding weddings and concerts there and for advertising the inn as a bookable venue. Planning officials in March 2005 slapped him with an "order to comply" forbidding him from violating the property's current zoning as single-family residential by holding events there. (Thompson and his associates say he had been hosting only exempted charitable events.)
A January 2006 letter from the county informed Thompson that the current land-use code prohibits him from taking advance reservations.
"We believe that solicitation with or without taking money is a commercial activity for a use that they do not have a permit," says a Jan. 5 email between county planners summarizing their discussions.
Thompson's attorney, John Groen, responded with a letter that said, "I find no support for your interpretation that the code prohibits my clients from accepting conditional reservations for future use of the property."
Thompson told WW last week that he hopes to have the inn opened by July 1 and makes no bones about wanting customers lined up in advance. "I'm going to take advance reservations for future business like any other hotel owner in the world," he says.
County officials said Monday that Thompson's insistence on advertising and taking reservations has prompted enforcement staff to send him a cease-and-desist letter. Thompson can appeal the county's interpretation of the codes and argue his case before a land-use judge. If he doesn't appeal and continues to violate the county's orders, penalties could run upwards of $100 per day, says Andrew Smith, constituent-services director in County Chair Diane Linn's office.
"Legally, legally, legally, schmegally," Simione says. "Where's the goodwill?"