I’m assuming they will appeal the decision, but after doing a quick read of the ruling (DOC: memorandum-decision-by-judge-pekas-12-27-166653) not sure if they have much of a leg to stand on.


They could stay, but that would require them to lift the home, move it to the South and chop 8 foot off the roof. Not an easy task, but probably the cheapest. With a house that large in the center of SF, it may have to be cut in half to move it out of the area.

The most frustrating part is that people with money and esteem think they can get away with this kind of stuff. You ask the question, wouldn’t a well known and qualified pediatric surgeon know better? Especially after all the warnings from experts?

And we wonder why are healthcare system in this country is so expensive and screwed up. Just look to the ugly yellow house in McKennan park that should have never been built.

The city is still not off the hook either, and there may be another case filed there;


By l3wis

24 thoughts on “McKennan Park Home must be torn down, moved or rebuilt”
  1. It’s a gratifying decision.

    One wonders what role Sanford Health may have had in the background. Common sense might dictate a closed door Sanford management admonishment to Dr. Sapienza along the lines of, “Hey, you’re a transplant here. Don’t sh_t where you live. Sanford Health doesn’t need such visible negative news associated with one of their doctors. You’re not indispensable. Chill out, ditch the swagger and don’t be so provocative.” Being this went to trial, however, it doesn’t seem like that happened.

    On the other hand, maybe Sanford powers-that-be initiated some off-the-record golf course talk with local muni power brokers along the lines of, “Hey, we need you to sweep this under the rug for our doctor, and/or make it go how Ms. doctor wants it to go. We’d like her to get her way.” If so . . . . thankfully such a tactic didn’t ultimately work.

  2. “The most frustrating part is that people with money and esteem think they can get away with this kind of stuff.”

    You mean when they hire a contractor (read: expert) and get approval from the city and the historic board (read: two more experts). Rich people…always trust the experts in a field they know nothing about. If they weren’t so rich and esteemed they’d know specialization of knowledge is a fools errand!

  3. Wonder how the Sapienzas are feeling about ‘feng shui’ today?

    From AL, June 16, 2016:

    Prior to the new home being built, the McDowells asked the Sapienzas if they would put their driveway on the north side of the home, which would have separated the two houses. But under questioning from Steve Johnson, a lawyer representing the McDowells, Josh Sapienza said that one of the reasons they chose not to was because a north-side driveway wouldn’t have adhered to the Asian philosophy of “Feng shui.” “According to Feng shui, you get a lot of negative energy from the north,” Sapienza said.

    Also, seems quite coincidental that Ron Bell is retiring this week.

    From the same AL article:

    Ron Bell, the city’s chief of Building Services, which oversees building permits, insisted the house conformed to the city’s building codes. But he also admitted that he didn’t know about the state law governing height in historic districts, nor did he know the height of the home.

  4. Truster, I would agree with you, under normal circumstances, but if you read the ruling, you will find a whole other scenario. Mr. Sapienza would ask an expert their opinion, and when he didn’t like the ‘professional’ answer, he would ask another, then lie to them about what he heard from the last one. Don’t believe, just read the ruling. He was playing the game of pitting professionals against each other to get his way, and it also seemed the city was putty in his hands.

  5. Peaks made the correct decision. There’s small rays of hope for the monster house builder. The judge did not grant the plaintiffs damages, did not set a deadline for compliance and left the door open for spezis to sue the city. McDowells were also denied case against the city. If the spezi’s really wanted to stick it to them , they could keep the mega house in perpetual deconstruction.

  6. Yeah, the evidence presented certainly paints the Sapienzas as opinion shoppers, that’s for sure. But that said, I’d have to imagine that if their appeal fails, they’re going to go after the city hard on this.

    After all, if the city has people who are hired to know the rules and issue the permits, why is the city issuing permits for buildings that are not in compliance with building and zoning codes? I know this is a longstanding grievance that you’ve raised, and it seems to be coming home to roost in a big way in this case.

    The Sapienzas could well be giant d-bags but in the bigger picture, the thing that ordinary residents should probably find more grievous is how dreadfully incompetent the city comes off in this affair. If the city issues permits in error because the people who should know stuff don’t actually know it, and it leaves private citizens exposed to legal claims, that’s a pretty terrifying scenario for Joe Sixpack.

  7. “After all, if the city has people who are hired to know the rules and issue the permits, why is the city issuing permits for buildings that are not in compliance with building and zoning codes?”

    Exactly! I have heard many excuses, one of the biggest is that they are understaffed and overworked. Two reasons this is a horse shit excuse. #1, if they are that buried, maybe the director should at least try to work until 5 PM each day. #2 , if you need more staff, which I believe with record permits each year, hire more and charge more for building permits. Duh.

    But ultimately you are right, what about the safety of residents?

    I ultimately think there are many people in power investing in a lot of these projects, and if we had better open record laws and ethics laws we would know this.

    Like most things gone awry in the building world of Sioux Falls, it will be all swept under the rug. I actually agree with LJL on that one.

  8. If I were the Spezi’s I would engulf the house in scaffolding and remove 1 strip of siding per week. I believe have another house now.

  9. hornguy – as I read it – the city codes and ordinances were followed. What wasn’t followed were the Federal Department of the Interior laws and SD State laws regarding construction in historical districts. None-the-less, city officials should be clever enough to actually read and understand what those rules are and how they apply if there are Federally or State designated historic districts within the city limits.

    I know for a fact that small town building officials – and even owners of historically designated properties in those towns haven’t got a clue. I would have hoped the big city folks were a touch smarter though.

  10. This ruling and the Copper Lounge could be why Bell announced his retirement. Obviously, there’s incompetence at planning and zoning. If I had a permit from the city, I’d consider it all that’s needed. In this case state law overpowered city zoning. The defendants have no legal reparations recourse. City ordinance prevents their being sued. The matter could go to State Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. Again (commonly) the city will lose but there’s no liability. The problem is Strong Mayor Charter is not democracy. If you want the city to be responsible and capable of enforcement, vote out this crazy charter. A petition drive could force an election. It would help if councilors initiated a resolution. Rolfing and Erpenbach are aligned with Huether and would fight it but the other 6 should see by now city government is Oligarchy that excepts the population.

  11. Watch city insurance budget skyrocket because of this. Yes, because of liability risk but primarily because insurance budget is used to pay private lawyers. It costs millions to defend the corruption. Meanwhile the 25 employeees in the city attorney’s office got nothing to do but shop online or play solitaire.

  12. The city also skips inspections over for contractors and examines private permits with a fine tooth comb. I know for a fact that the decks on my house are out of code from the contractor and they were built 6 years ago! I get a permit and they rake me over the coals for the smallest discrepancy. I don’t mind being wrong and corrected, but stop assuming these shit-show operations that build around here A. know what they are doing and B. are not cutting corners to meet deadlines and save money.

  13. Very true fluff. They do the contractor inspections from the car seat and make the diy guy regret doing a diy project

  14. anonymous and all, Ron Bell is likely correct when he says if passed construction building codes. He is not saying they confirmed historical district rules, covenants or federal laws. We have a historic board and employees in other city offices required to know if things are done in letter and spirit of laws. Josh apparently hired, fired and worked around anything he wanted to to build a house fitting his big , brash personality.

    The house would be fine in a newer part of town where there is concern and pride in monster houses on small lots (RE McMansions).

  15. Rufusx, I hear what you’re saying. But even if the applicable laws and regulations are state and federal (and admittedly without doing my homework), I find it nearly impossible to believe that the initial forum for dispute resolution in both instances is a circuit court. *Someone* – whether it’s the city, an independent board, etc. – has to be tasked with reviewing applications and granting approvals. It surely cannot be that the primary mechanism for enforcing the integrity of an historical district is neighbors suing each other.

    Doesn’t the city have a Board of Historic Preservation? How friggin’ asleep at the wheel were *they* on this? Or are they also going to assert that they were too clueless and stupid to hold the Sapienzas accountable?

    As the facts lay, I’m supportive of the Sapienzas. I hope they appeal. Not because I think this was a neighborly way to do business, nor because I think their house should remain there unaltered, but because it absolutely cannot be the financial responsibility of the property owner to make alterations if the entities that are responsible for regulation fail to regulate.

    Now if the Sapienzas tried to hoodwink the Board by presenting falsified plans, or not submitting subsequent amendments for approval, that’d be a different story, I suppose. If not, I can’t see how the city isn’t responsible for the cost of bringing the structure into compliance.

  16. When Sanford Hosp. finally dozes the poor neighborhoods and gets its big promenade street built thru town, all the Sanford doctors should just be given their own special residential zone where they can put up shitstack frat-row masterpieces like this one. It would be named Banal Street.

  17. The argus-leader previously reported that the plans submitted to and passed by the historic board were subsequently altered to some degree.

    But the McDowells are in the right here and can
    now maintain the historic integrty of their home. The new neighbors ignored cease and desist and could have made things right in the spring of 2015. But, they kept right on building at their own peril.

    @hornguy: I agree with your first comment.

  18. Happy to Announce justice still prevails in Sioux Falls. The owners of house beside the Sapiensa McMansion
    WON their legal battle against Josh Sapienza the husband of Sanford Hospital Pediatric Surgeon Sara Sapienza.
    Wooohoo! “Mr Gorbachov tear down that wall!”

  19. Hornguy made a great point seeming to to be overlooked in the discussion:
    “Now if the Sapienzas tried to hoodwink the Board by presenting falsified plans, or not submitting subsequent amendments for approval”

    Major point of the the lawsuit was how Josh Sapienza fired the original architect because he did not want to follow the historic preservation rules for the district, then used the original sketches of a smaller house appearing to be farther from the north property line when he went to the Historic Preservation Board for approvals.

    Hoodwinked is a great way of describing the situation caused by Josh. With the hours of testimony and briefs filed, Judge Pekas gave the only decision he could have with all the deceit perpetrated by Josh. Josh wanted a house to rival all houses in the neighborhood and he got it.

    It gives a new definition to the phrase downsizing and we’re not talking with Photoshop.

  20. A reader sent me this email;

    Check this out. Judge Peska’s ruling has gone international:


    East Coast commuters also reported seeing a related article on their USA Today apps Weds.

    How about a local AL headline: “City Hall Slammed With International Ridicule”, or “Ron Bell Gets Gonged”.

    Nice swan song, Ron.

  21. I find it utterly amazing that re-enactment architecture is even allowed in a historic neighborhood. I understand preservation work or demolition were health and safety are issues, but to allow someone to redefine a historic district with a new home is absolutely wrong and unhistoric.

    If you visit the national park which surrounds the home of President Lincoln in Springfield, IL, you will find that those homes in his neighborhood which were yet to be present, when he lived there, were removed in the past forty years in order to establish the neighborhood that Lincoln knew in his time. If the National Park Service had taken the advice or attitude of some in the McKennan Park area they would have removed those post-Lincoln homes, unless grand themselves, with more stately homes, which although nice in their own sense would have been unhistoric in their relevance to the purpose which a National Park or a historic district is suppose to state and represent in a case like the Lincoln neighborhood.

    When you remove less expensive homes from a historic district, like McKennan Park, to build more grandeur homes, you remove the history and the purpose of its preservation which speaks of a time when middle class and affluent families lived side by side, and instead you usher in not only a new reality but also unfortunately legitimize this new growing reality of class divide in our society today, which although historic itself overtime, is not a honest or necessary history when it erases past history of importance, that is if history is to be authentic and conclusive, in order to be factual and thus relevant….

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