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Hotel issue going to court

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Time for talk is over, city officials said Tuesday, voting 5-0 to take the owners of the former Heritage House Hotel to court in a move they hope will result in a court-ordered demolition of the property.

City officials believe they are in a "damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they don't," situation, even if a judge does order Romeo Comeau and Greenbriar Holdings to demolish the property. If so, the city will likely have to fork over the money themselves, given that Comeau and company apparently don't have the money to do it themselves, according to City Manager Alfred Lott.

"I'm saying that the city will still likely end up having to demolish it," Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Pike said. "Then we'd slap a lien on it that may or may not get paid and the property ends up sitting there."

Pike, instead, thought it would be better to get Comeau and company to the table to try and work out some agreement to get the property in the hands of a viable developer and back on the tax rolls.

Comeau has tossed out a ballpark figure on how much he'd be willing to sell the property to the city for, but he hasn't put anything in writing and city officials will not say what price he is seeking.

Lott told commissioners Tuesday that demolition could cost as much as $1.2 million given the necessary asbestos and environmental abatement that would have to be undertaken to mitigate the building's hazards before it could be razed.

One option discussed by Ward 5 Commissioner Bob Langstaff was using the city's eminent domain authority to seize the property before demolishing it, which would give the city oversight of the demolition but would also limit any new development to something of public use and off the tax rolls.

The city engineering department had discussed the possibility of using the space to create a holding pond that would help ease flooding in the southern and western parts of the city.

That plan, first devised more than 16 years ago, would reduce the amount of money the city would have to spend on the Holloway outfall by as much as $36 million according to one estimate made back in 1996. But since the area has a low elevation, creating the a viable holding pond would be problematic, city officials say.

Langstaff asked City Engineer Bruce Maples to work on getting an updated estimate on the savings of that project and report back to the commission or Lott.