City officials want to destroy the dilapidated Heritage House on Oglethorpe Boulevard, while the owners want to restore the structure.
Albany ALBANY — For the second time in 12 months, a local judge has ordered the owners of a blighted former hotel on Oglethorpe Boulevard to demolish the structure, this time following an implied directive by a 12-person jury that deemed the property worthless.
If Greenbriar L.L.C. — the owners of the former Heritage House hotel — can’t or won’t tear it down within 30 days, Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss gave authorization Monday for the city of Albany to step in and bring the structure to the ground.
After hearing the city’s evidence against Greenbriar, a jury found that the property was a threat to the public safety, that financially it was worth nothing, that it would cost more than $20 million to bring the structure up to building codes and that the costs to repair it when compared to its value were unreasonable.
Todd Jones, Greenbriar’s Raleigh, N.C., attorney, hinted Monday that an appeal to any Superior Court ruling would be considered, saying that the city is trying to make Greenbriar look like a monster in this case.
“The fact is, Greenbriar has done a lot to make something out of this property,” Jones said. “Sure, I understand it looks like a bombed-out hotel, but frankly if you drive up and down Oglethorpe there are several places that look like bombed-out hotels.
“A lot of the reason it looks the way it does today is because of the city allowing (Marvin) Baptiste permits he never should’ve had. Greenbriar has never given up hope. Really and truly, the owners have been committed to trying to mold this property into something that will benefit the community.”
Jones said he had hoped that the court would give Greenbriar some flexibility on time because of what he called a “growing political movement afoot” to transform the property.
That political movement is based on former state Rep. John White’s candidacy for mayor. White has said publicly that he believes the hotel can be transformed into a vibrant new hotel and convention center.
White was in the courtroom Monday and sat in on much of the trial.
Jones didn’t address the position of candidate and former Albany City Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard, who is actively campaigning not only for mayor but for the demolition of the Heritage House.
To counter Greenbriar’s appeal and expedite the demolition of the property, the city attorney’s office plans to file a brief in court today requesting that the court issue a superceding appeal bond that would force Greenbriar to pay an expected cost incurred by taxpayers through a protracted legal battle upfront and could possibly make the pot too rich for the owners to stay at the table.
During the trial, the city offered testimony from Chief Code Enforcement Officer Robert Carter, who painted a picture of the former hotel has a modern-day Heritage House of horrors with the discovery of garbage, used condoms, human feces and homemade crackpipes on the premises.
Following Carter was Georgia licensed appraiser Horace Carter — no relation to Robert Carter — who was hired by the city to evaluate the property.
Horace Carter testified that using comparable sales data for the property and other factors, the building, excluding the land, had a value of roughly $892,000.
Horace Carter also testified that, using data resources that are standard in the appraisal and reconstruction fields, the cost to rehabilitate the property to bring it up to applicable codes would be in excess of $13 million.
John Hudgins, who works with the city’s engineering department, said by his estimation and belief, that figure is closer to $17 million.
Finally, Joe L. Coleman, a resident who lives adjacent to the rear of the building on Highland Avenue, said he’s seen as many as 12 instances each month where people were coming and going from the facility.
The findings of fact from the jury capped a one-day trial in which the representative for Greenbriar was ruled ineligible to represent the company after failing to register with the Georgia bar.
Jones attempted to represent the interests of Greenbriar and owner Romeo Comeau in court Monday.
The problem? Georgia law prevents attorneys from outside the state from practicing law unless they get permission from the court they wish to participate in and from the Georgia Bar Association “Pro Hac Vice” — meaning “for this event” — first.
Greenbriar also tried to get Jones eligible to participate through some legal maneuvering which involved Comeau naming him a temporary manager of the company for 30 days.
Ultimately, Goss ruled that Jones was ineligible for a variety of factors, including his lack of registration with the Georgia bar and the fact that no articles of incorporation had been produced to show that Comeau had the authority to name Long manager of the company.
With Jones ruled ineligible and Comeau having yet to appear in Albany for any court proceeding, jury selection and the subsequent trial went on without any legal representation for the owners.
“We’re moving forward,” Goss said. “I understand some may say that Greenbriar isn’t here, but they knew about the trial date. They were served with notice as required by law.”
Goss also noted that no evidence could be found to suggest that Greenbriar had ever registered with the Georgia Secretary of State to conduct business in Georgia.