While the city was engaged in a lengthy legal battle over the Blair House during the last year-and-a-half, Bob and Lisa Salb waited patiently.
The Salbs sat in courtrooms month after month as the Waukesha Masonic Lodge 37 sought a ruling for a judge to grant it ownership of the historic home at 434 Madison St. As they waited, the Waukesha couple's proposal to convert the home into a bed-and-breakfast inn likewise sat idle for nearly two years.
The Masons filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the city claiming it had violated the terms of the original deed of the property. The Masons were next in line for the home if a judge thought the city was in violation. City Attorney Brian Running called it frivolous, maintaining all along that the city didn't violate any part of Blair's will.
Wait is over
Now that a judge recently ruled against the Masons and the organization isn't filing an appeal, the city is moving ahead with the sale of the home — something it has wanted to do for nearly two years. That will allow the Salbs to achieve their goal of preserving the home, which sits atop a hill near city hall.
Though she hasn't forgotten the long wait, Lisa Salb expressed nothing but enthusiasm about the process going forward.
"I am so excited to finally be here," she said at the Jan. 13 plan commission meeting, during which the seven-person panel unanimously approved three items needed to pave the way for the bed-and-breakfast to be possible. "It was 23 months ago that my husband Bob and I handed our proposal to (then-Community Development Director) Steve Crandell to purchase the Blair House, so it's been a very long process."
Yes, the couple was frustrated over the delay.
"You can imagine after working several months on the proposal how frustrating it was to get the news about the lawsuit," Lisa Salb said.
But when the city asked the Salbs if they would wait for the lawsuit to be completed, Lisa Salb indicated they weren't going anywhere.
"We emphatically said 'Yes,'" Lisa Salb said.
Certainly, the Salbs don't want to wait any more.
"Time to get the ball rolling again," she said as she spoke to the plan commission.
The right fit
The Blair House, built in 1876 and the home of the one-time mayor Henry Blair, hasn't been used since ProHealth Care occupied it in 2013. The city said at the time it didn't have the funds to continue supporting the 4,353-square-foot home, and no department had a use for it.
The city then looked for interested buyers who, according to Community Development Specialist Jeff Fortin, "would respect the historical features of the house, preserve Waukesha's history and get it back on the tax rolls."
Bob and Lisa Salb, who issued the only proposal for the home in early 2014, said their bed-and-breakfast inn would accomplish that. And with Lisa and Bob Salb's architectural and preservation experience — both are board members of the Waukesha Preservation Alliance — they feel they are the best candidates to revitalize the property.
The first step was to declare the 0.899-acre site surplus property (since the city no longer has a use for it), amend the land-use plan for the property from institutional to medium-high density residential, and rezone the site to multi-family residential. The changes are needed in order for the site to be converted into a bed-and-breakfast inn.
The plan commission passed all three items without any dissension, but the items also need common council approval — which is expected in February.
Running will now draft a conservation easement, something needed when a municipality sells property on the National Register of Historic Places or is a local landmark. The draft will then go to the state for review as well as to the city's landmarks commission next month.
Lisa Salb said the conservation easement protects the historic architectural details on the interior and exterior of the house, and Fortin said the property will still have landmarks commission protection since it is part of the Madison Street Historic District, which includes eight buildings over 25 acres across Madison, Randall and Third streets.
This district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. The Blair House was already listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
"Any changes or modifications (such as) tearing off some of non-historic features ... will have to go through landmarks (commission)," Fortin said.
The Salbs also still have to obtain a bed-and-breakfast license from the state and file a conditional use permit with the plan commission.
Then, the fun begins for the Salbs, who have an estimated five-year renovation plan, that includes an extensive landscaping project.
"We really want the historic Blair House to be again an icon in the city," Lisa Salb said.