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Freemasonry Watch

Lake Elsinore Masons try to sell white elephant lodge

'There's nothing we can do with the building'

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Press-Enterprise - Riverside, California

Lake Elsinore Masons try to sell white elephant lodge

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Press-Enterprise

Like many buildings in Lake Elsinore's historic downtown, the Masonic Lodge dates to the early 20th century. The fraternal organization that owns it moved out in 2006 to merge with another chapter in Sun City.

Since then, the club's efforts to sell its building have been thwarted by the property's zoning, along with the downside of owning vintage architecture: the two-story structure needs expensive upgrades to make it accessible to the handicapped.

At a Lake Elsinore City Council meeting earlier this month, Masonic Lodge member Vick Knight asked that the city change the zoning from its current designation of "high-density residential" to commercial, thus allowing a business to operate there.

Lake Elisore

Frank Bellino / The Press-Enterprise
"There's nothing we can do with the building," says Lake Elsinore Masonic Lodge's former master Don Young. The old lodge in downtown Lake Elsinore is zoned for apartments but prospective buyers want to open commercial businesses there.

"I don't know how many deals we've turned down," Don Young, a retired Wildomar resident and the lodge's former master, said Thursday. "There's nothing we can do with the building. We're just stuck with it. We've even dropped the price."

The lodge, at 114 E. Graham Ave., sits just off Main Street, the core of Lake Elsinore's downtown district, and right behind City Hall. But while neighboring buildings are zoned for commercial use, the city assigned residential zoning to the lodge.

"It's zoned for apartment use," said Tom Weiner, the city's planning manager, estimating the hall has carried that designation "at least since the mid-1980s."

Lake Elsinore currently is in the process of giving its general plan a "comprehensive update," the first complete overhaul since 1990, Weiner said.

At more than 80 years old, the mason's meeting hall predates that zoning designation -- so the property was grandfathered in. But as soon as ownership changes hands, the new rules take effect, Weiner said.

"It's one of the older buildings in Elsinore. The cornerstone (says) 1925," Young said.

"I had a lady who wanted to make a catering house out of it," Young said. "Right now, we have a man who wants to buy it to manufacture window coverings. There will be no traffic there (because) he goes to the customer."

The masons are asking $250,000 for the 4,000-square-foot building, which has been on the market about a year, Young said.

"Our brokers finally (told prospective buyers): Before you make an offer, go to City Hall and see if you can get a license to operate. It's like we're stuck with a white elephant, and there's nothing they could do about that," he said.

Lake Elisore

The Masonic Lodge in downtown Lake Elsinore was built long before current zoning laws required residential uses for the property.

At the May 8 council meeting, city officials suggested the masons apply for a zone change. But such requests can be costly for a property owner.

The fraternal organization would have to pay the city a $5,000 deposit to cover the cost of staff time needed to process the request. Further, the masons would have to request an amendment to the city's general plan, and submit another $5,000 deposit for that, Weiner said.

The city would handle the applications together, tabulate the man-hours, bill the customer to cover the costs and refund the unused portion of the deposits, Weiner said. Soon, an environmental impact report will be released on the city's updated general plan, and a series of public hearings will follow before the Planning Commission and City Council vote on it.

If all goes according to schedule, the new general plan could be adopted by the end of 2007, Weiner said. It's entirely up to the masons, he quickly noted, whether they want to put off trying to sell their building until after the new document is approved.

"They had originally tried to bring in a banquet facility for weddings and such," Weiner said, but the lodge's small parking lot -- only 12 striped spaces -- made that idea unworkable.

Further, the property would need a wheelchair ramp, wider doorways and handicapped-accessible restrooms to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, Weiner said.

"Once the use (as a Masonic Lodge) stopped, that's when they lost their 'grandfather' -- their legal, nonconforming status," Weiner said. Thus, if the organization wants to sell its property or bring in a new tenant or new use, they would have to bring their building up to modern standards.

"When a building is that old, lots of times there are substantial upgrades that need to be done," Weiner said. "The ADA is something the city enforces pretty strictly, because it's a federal mandate."

The Lake Elsinore masons consolidated with Menifee Valley Lodge No. 289, in Sun City, last year. The building has sat empty ever since.

"It's a good building, and the Masons have been here for a while," Weiner said. "We're just trying to find something that will work for them."

Reach Mary Bender at 951-893-2103 or [email protected]

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