Couple due to lose motel Monday

"Potential buyers are literally circling, but their motel may be snatched from them in a foreclosure procedure scheduled for Monday.On Thursday, Phyllis Talbert, 72, was telling her story to a reporter while two potential buyers were walking around their Inverness Inn, a South Whidbey landmark that for years was known as the Idle Time Motel.The Idle Time was built many years before bed and breakfasts with their mints placed under fluffy pillows came into vogue. The six-unit motel features just the basics, at a modest price starting at $65 per night.Talbert was hoping a newspaper story might turn into a miracle, and someone would save her and her husband Lee from financial disaster. The thought came to her the night before while she was practicing with her church choir.The Talberts purchased the motel over six years ago, but Lee, a 60--year-old computer worker at the time, couldn't find a job locally. They tried to balance their bills, but for may reasons couldn't keep up the motel payments. Lee recently took a job in the computer business in Arizona, while his wife tries desperately to save their financial lives back on Whidbey Island.We're at the bottom, Phyllis said, as a Puget Sound Energy bill collector knocked on her door, asking for at least a partial payment on a hefty electricity bill. This is a personal and financial disaster for us. I'm hoping somebody can think of some kind of solution, Talbert said, after she scribbled out a check.The Talberts must pay $22,000 Monday or the motel property will be taken back by Everett resident Henry Newton. His attorney in the matter, Thomas Hulten, said once possession of the motel is regained, it will be auctioned off to the highest bidder on June 23.Hulten said, We'd love that, if the Talberts can somehow pay their debt on Monday. We don't want to own the property. We just want the money, he said.Phyllis Talbert voices no animosity toward Newton. She admits she and Lee are far behind in their payments. That's because they've had such trouble selling the property.Situated above Highway 525 with a view of Useless Bay and Seattle in the far distance, the property is zoned rural. The motel use is grandfathered in to present zoning. The men looking at the property Thursday wanted to put an RV park there, and Talbert told them the zoning allows three RV's per acre. Everybody's talking RV park, she said. The new zoning code allows such use in rural zones, but it came too late for the Talberts. Our money's gone, she said.Phyllis Talbert advises the prospective purchasers, however, that an RV park would still require county approval.The Talberts said county regulations have stopped a couple of potential motel sales already, the first one 18 months ago. The motel office is in their house on an adjoining parcel, and one person wanted to turn that house into an antique mall. According to Talbert, the county said no and effectively killed the sale. Another prospect had a different use in mind, and the county nixed that deal too. They wouldn't allow him to use it for what he wanted, Phyllis said.Lee Talbert is well known in boating circles on South Whidbey, and for a while sold used boats from his yard next to the motel. But the county stopped that, too, and fined the Talberts for using the property improperly.Phyllis Talbert said the only property they will lose in the foreclosure is the five acres the motel sits on. The motel by itself is useless, she said. The office is in their house, and that's not part of the sale. And Talbert is sure the county wouldn't allow construction of a new office in a rural zone.Ironically, the Talberts aren't poor in property. Phyllis said they have houses in Langley and San Diego, but due to a poor credit rating they can't use those as collateral to borrow money to save their motel.Talbert thinks the community needs the Inverness, which is one of only two traditional motels between the Clinton ferry dock and Coupeville. It's in the interest of South Whidbey that the motel does not close, she said. Most customers are people with friends and family on South Whidbey, she said, as well as those who entertain at the WICA theater and the Island County Fairgrounds. Others stay at the motel while their houses are being built or remodeled.The Talberts will lose their big down payment on the motel and six long years of work if Monday arrives and they don't have $22,000. It may sell next week, but in the meantime we're in a terrible pickle, Phyllis said glumly. If they had a little more patience they'd get every penny from us.Now, her only hope is that a movie-like happy ending will somehow occur, like in her favorite Jimmy Stewart classic.In 'It's a Wonderful Life', there was a newspaper story, and it all turned out fine, she said."

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