Scott Kramer was told he could have no parties at the Dearing Mansion bed-and-breakfast he owns on the West Side of St. Paul. He hosted an epic bash.
His conditional-use permit doesn't allow him to advertise events at the gorgeous brick landmark. The party was billed as a Murder Mystery-themed evening on social media, charging partygoers for food and drink.
On Thursday, the zoning committee of the St. Paul Planning Commission didn't quite buy Kramer's assertions that he didn't intentionally flout city rules for his B&B, which sits on a bluff overlooking downtown St. Paul and the Mississippi River. But they weren't ready to revoke his permit, either. After hours of discussion, the committee voted to table the issue for a month, asking staff members to study options for what to do next.
Revocation remains an option, said Dan Edgerton, the committee chairman, adding, "Several of us were on the fence."
What got Kramer into this mess was a New Year's Eve "fantasy of the damned" party, where well over 100 guests enjoyed an open bar, a gourmet buffet, live music, DJs and murder-mystery theme rooms into the wee hours of Jan. 1, 2018. Problem is, one of the conditions that allowed Kramer to turn the mansion he lovingly restored more than a decade ago into a B&B forbids parties, or holding special events, or advertising for either.
And it wasn't the first time. City officials had told Kramer twice previously, after they received neighbor complaints, that he could not do those things. On Thursday, several of Kramer's friends and neighbors called it all a big mistake and pleaded with commissioners not to revoke his permit. If they did, they said, he would probably have to sell the mansion, and who knows what would move in after that.
Commissioners were not hostile. Kris Fredson even asked if there were a way his conditional-use permit could be modified to allow him to continue having New Year's Eve parties, something friends said he'd done for the past dozen years — albeit without charging money. But Cedrick Baker said that as reluctant as commissioners were to punish Kramer by taking his livelihood, it was also hard to give him a pass. "We are discussing another way out," he said. "There are a lot of people where we don't discuss another way out."
Kramer and his wife bought the house in 2006 and restored it. But, after Kramer and his wife split in 2013, he said he needed to find a way to afford to keep it. In October 2014, he received a conditional-use permit as a bed-and-breakfast.
But in May 2015, the city received a complaint that Kramer was hosting parties and renting and advertising the home's six bedrooms. His permit allowed him to rent out only four. In the summer of 2016, officials said they received another complaint that he was again hosting parties and, in January 2017, Kramer was told: no parties, corporate gatherings, weddings or retreats.
Kramer and his friends said the New Year's Eve party was a private event that got out of hand, thanks to social media, pleading for another chance. Christopher Keith, a friend and local historian, said Kramer needs the permit if St. Paul is to continue to enjoy his historic home.
"These buildings are important, and they need people who will maintain access to them," he said.
Jim Sazevich has chronicled thousands of Minnesota homes and has spent much time in the mansion. He said he hopes Kramer can keep the home he so meticulously restored. Designed by architect Augustus Gauger and completed in 1887, it was home to dairy farmer Samuel Dearing until he hit financial ruin in the 1890s. The mansion was divided into apartments around World War II and had been vacant for years, Sazevich said.
Then Kramer came along.
"Scott has done amazing work," he said. "This house could move to Summit Avenue and it would be one of the finest there. I hope he can keep it. ... He is a perfect person for the house."