ALBANY — Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss of the Dougherty Judicial Circuit granted a request Wednesday by the city of Albany to require the owners of the dilapidated Heritage House to post a $157,000 bond to continue their appeal of a demolition order.
A jury earlier this year ruled the former hotel on West Oglethorpe Boulevard was worthless, prompting Goss to order Greenbrier Holdings, owners of the property, to demolish the eyesore.
Greenbrier then appealed that decision to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which prompted the city to request the bond.
Assistant City Attorney Chimere Chisholm said Wednesday the bond is meant to shift the burden of protecting the general public from the former hotel from the taxpayers’ backs to the owner while they attempt what she called a delay tactic.
“The court has found that the building is a threat to the public safety and since the owners intend to continue what we believe to be purely a delay tactic by appealing the demolition order, we believe that the property owners rather than the taxpayers should be responsible for making the property safe,” she said.
Goss’ ruling Wednesday came after the city called three witnesses to the stand to testify — Chief Code Enforcement Officer Robert Carter, Assistant Albany Police Chief Mark Scott and City of Albany Budget Officer Larry Johnson.
No one from Greenbrier — neither lawyers nor witnesses — was on hand to represent the interests of the company.
According to the Dougherty County Tax Department, Greenbrier Holdings principal owner Romeo Comeau still owes more than $26,000 in back property taxes on the building, which was unsuccessfully put up for auction at a tax sale earlier this year.
The building also is being foreclosed upon by Capitol City Bank, Chisolm said in court.
If Comeau and Greenbrier are unable to pay the $157,000 bond within 20 days, they could face having their appeal dismissed.
City Manager James Taylor said that the tide of public sentiment is rising high on the city’s notion that the building is unsalvageable.
“The citizens of Albany are sick and tired of that building sitting there. We’ve been talking with the bank, the property owners and everyone we can to help mitigate the cost of cleaning up the property ... they’ve done some work, but they haven’t done nearly what they need to do,” Taylor said. “The citizens are ready to get on with it, the commission is ready to act on it, but we’re stuck in the legal side of it for the short term it appears.”
Even if the city were given the go-ahead to tear the building down, demolition costs would be staggering.
Estimates put razing the building at somewhere between $800,000 and $1.2 million. Then the question arises about what happens to the property once it’s cleared.