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Neighbors file suit to halt events at former Weyerhaeuser mansion

The fight over finding a new use for a Tacoma timber baron’s former home is escalating to a new level.

A neighbor of the former Weyerhaeuser mansion on North Stevens Street has filed suit in Pierce County Superior Court asking a judge to issue an injunction preventing the estate’s owner or a Seattle-based catering company from holding any events on the mansion grounds outside the estate’s buildings. They asked the court to make that injunction effective Aug. 18.

The couple who filed the suit, Shawn McRoberts and Sarah McAlister, say that weddings and other events held in the mansion’s gardens are disrupting the serenity of their family’s life. The couple live at 4415 N. Stevens St., immediately adjacent to the estate’s grounds.

The new suit is the latest chapter in more than a year of warring between neighbors in the well-to-do North End neighborhood and the mansion’s owner, Corban University, and the Seattle events company, Blue Ribbon Cooking School, that holds events at the mansion. Blue Ribbon has said it wants to buy the estate if it obtains a city permit allowing it to continue holding events there.

Vanessa Volkman, head of the cooking school, was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon.

The Tudor-style mansion has a sweeping view of Commencement Bay. Built in 1923 by timber company president John P. Weyerhaeuser, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its seven-acre grounds also contain a chapel, a classroom building, a greenhouse and a garage. The mansion has been used as both a college campus and a home for Catholic nuns since the family left in the ’30s.

Corban University has conducted seminary classes at the mansion for many years, but it now says it wants to move to a smaller commercial site and to teach more of its classes online.

The university says it wants to find new owners for the property who will preserve its historic buildings and who will be compatible with the neighbor’s residents.

McRoberts and Blue Ribbon have clashed in the past over events held adjacent to McRoberts’ home in the mansion gardens. Blue Ribbon has alleged McRoberts has deliberately disrupted weddings by mowing his lawn or by playing loud music from his deck during weddings. McRoberts said amplified music from the mansion grounds has interfered with activities at his home and that wedding guests’ cars frequently block his driveway.

McRoberts and McAlister aren’t the only neighbors who say Blue Ribbons’ events have interrupted their lives. Others in the neighborhood have complained of drunken, unruly event guests, of neighborhood streets filled with event guests’ cars and noises coming from the mansion late at night.

The cooking school owners say they’ve worked diligently with the neighborhood to minimize issues and to be good neighbors.

The city of Tacoma in mid-June issued a conditional use permit setting rules for holding events on the mansion grounds. Both neighbors and Blue Ribbon have filed appeals or asked for reconsideration of the permit and its strictures.

Among those conditions are strict limits on the attendance at events, hours of events, and parking to accommodate guests and staff members. That permit also gave the mansion owners six months to erect a sound-blocking wall between the mansion grounds and McRoberts and McAlister’s home.

The city in March also issued a notice of violation to the university for holding unpermitted events. The university has appealed that notice.

City planners say they intend to hear appeals on both the use permit and the violation notice sometime this fall. Until then, however, events continue at the mansion.

McRoberts and McAlister want the court to order a halt to events that they say don’t comply with the Tacoma Municipal Code and the conditional use permit. The couple reserved the right to seek specific monetary damages for the nuisance created by the events at the mansion and for emotional distress.

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