Court rules in Phoebe's favor; Historic Preservation Commission files another appeal

·4 min read

Sep. 17—ALBANY — Despite Superior Court Judge Victoria Darrisaw ruling Friday that the Albany-Dougherty Historic Preservation Commission did not have standing to file an appeal of the Albany City Commission's decision that Phoebe Putney Health System could move forward with its plan to demolish five properties and build a $40 million "Living and Learning Center," Phoebe did not begin work on the project Saturday.

Immediately after Darrisaw's ruling, members of the Historic Preservation Commission and their lawyer, Phil Cannon, were granted a motion to appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals of Georgia. HPC member Hope Campbell signed the motion on behalf of that board, and Board Chairman Bryant Harden signed on behalf of Cannon.

"We will be filing a motion to dismiss on Monday," said Phoebe Health System President/Chairman Scott Steiner, who said earlier this week that work on the project needed to start no later than "mid-September" to meet deadlines. "It's hard to tell with these things how long they will take."

Steiner said Saturday the appeal included a curious tidbit.

"It's interesting that Harden signed on behalf of their attorney ... you never see that," he said.

Darrisaw ruled on Friday that demolition of the five buildings that was temporarily halted a week ago can proceed, clearing the way for work to resume to make way for the residential nursing education center. She stated in the ruling that the Historic Preservation Commission did not have standing to file its appeal.

The ruling also stated that the case amounted to the city suing itself in that the HPC is a subsidiary body in the city's organizational structure.

Following an initial public hearing during the summer, the eight-member HPC, half of whose members are nominated by the Albany City Commission and half by the Dougherty County Commission, voted 4-3 to deny the five Certificates of Appropriateness needed in order to remove the structures located in the city's historic district.

The five buildings include the building on Jefferson Street that was completed in 1925 and was at one time the home of Albany High School and Albany Middle School, as well as three homes and a 1960s-era medical building.

Phoebe plans to spend $40 million on a "Living and Learning Center" to be located across Jefferson Street from its main medical facility. The center will educate and provide housing for Albany Technical College nursing students, who will train using Phoebe's simulation center and work in the hospital.

After the denial of the COAs, Phoebe appealed to the Albany City Commission, which overruled the HPC's decision during an August meeting with a unanimous vote, and last Friday the city issued demolition permits.

A temporary restraining order issued on Sept. 10 halted the work temporarily, but the judge's ruling Friday would have cleared the way for the project to move forward, Albany City Attorney Nathan Davis said on Friday.

Darrisaw ruled that the HPC did not have standing, that it has no property right in the issue, is not an aggrieved party and cannot be legally adversely affected by a successful appeal of its denial.

"Obviously we're pleased and ready to move forward with progress," City Commissioner Chad Warbington said before the latest appeal was announced. "I'm glad it's all resolved. At some point it's got to end.

"It may not be something you like, but you know what, it's time to move on to the next issues for the city. It's time to move on."

Earlier this week, Cannon filed a motion requesting that Darrisaw recuse herself from the case, a motion also denied on Friday in a separate ruling.

In his filing, Cannon stated that Darrisaw is on the board of a local bank, as are Steiner and attorney Faison Middleton, who has represented the Dougherty County Hospital Authority. The Hospital Authority requested one of the COAs, while the hospital itself requested the other four.

"This is not about what actually happened at this point, it is about the principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary will interpret and apply the laws that govern us and avoiding the appearance of impropriety," the motion said. "Considering paragraph two of the preamble, this appearance of impropriety without question will affect public confidence in the independence, impartiality and the integrity of the decision Judge Darrisaw makes, regardless of what it may be."

In her ruling on the motion, Darrisaw said that the motion, while meeting the legal requirement of timeliness, failed to include an affidavit, as required, and "is legally insufficient and hereby denied."