Goldstein, city go to mat over 2013 parking lot condemnation

Mar. 9—MARIETTA — A Cobb County courtroom saw the presence Tuesday of a former governor, two senior judges, and attorneys from some of the city's most eminent firms.

But the occasion was no swearing-in or ceremonial pageantry. It was instead the latest — and perhaps, nearly final — chapter in a long-running condemnation fight between the city and former Marietta councilman Philip Goldstein.

Twelve jurors will soon be charged with sorting out the dispute, ongoing since 2013, over a slice of a parking lot owned by Goldstein near the intersection of Waverly Way and South Marietta Parkway. The city condemned a piece of the property during construction of the Mountain-to-River Trail alongside the railroad tracks, depriving Goldstein of 11 parking spaces.

Jurors were expected to visit the parking lot Friday morning, followed by closing arguments from both sides.

Court filings show that in 2013, a city-hired appraiser valued the land at just shy of $106,000. A later filing from 2017 revised the figure down to $78,040.

Goldstein, represented by former Gov. Roy Barnes, sued. Their appraiser values the condemned property at around $393,000.

The wrangling over the property's value, however, belied a cross-section of the intimate web of Marietta's old guard families. The day was punctuated with references to the overlapping careers of the attorneys and witnesses — not to mention their "mamas and daddies," as Barnes would put it.

The day kicked off with a continuation of testimony from Goldstein himself, who, along with his family, is one of the largest property owners in downtown Marietta. Goldstein's son, Joseph Goldstein, holds his father's old seat on the Marietta City Council, and likewise owns a number of properties in his own name.

Under questioning from city attorney Daniel White, Goldstein maintained that he estimates the value of each parking space in the lot at $40,000 a pop. White, however, argued that estimate was wildly out of proportion.

"Are you testifying to the jury that losing less than 50% of your parking on this parcel entitles you to recover 90-something-percent of the fair market value that your appraiser said it's worth?" White asked.

Responded Goldstein, "What I'm testifying to the jury is the fair and just compensation for the parking spaces to me, for my value, for my use, for my tenants ... is $40,000 a space."

Later, during testimony from Goldstein's and Barnes' appraiser Hank Manning, White characterized the downtown Marietta property scene as an "oligopoly" held by a select few families. Manning said at the time of the 2013 condemnation, downtown was owned by five families — including the Mannings and Goldsteins.

The courtroom threatened to devolve after lunch when Barnes called to the stand Senior Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy. Flournoy was called — over the objections of White and co-counsel Doug Haynie — because of his ownership of the triangular courthouse parking lot between Roswell, Waddell, and Anderson streets.

(Goldstein at one point said of Flournoy's lot, "I'd love to own it.")

Flournoy was originally appointed to the bench by Barnes in 2000, and chaired the Downtown Marietta Development Authority when it sold the disputed parking lot property (then a "kudzu patch") to Goldstein in 1995. And Barnes, for his part, took pains to dispel any suspicion of undue influence seeping into the case from either factor.

Questioned by Barnes, Flournoy said he would value his parking lot at about $39,000 a space based on its immense profitability from courthouse traffic.

"There is a scarcity of parking, and you can make a lot of money selling parking places, which is what I do," Flournoy said.

The city's attorneys suggested Goldstein's lot, being further from the Square and the courthouse complex, was in fact worth less than Goldstein's.

Flournoy also faced repeated admonishments from Senior Judge Adele Grubbs, who is presiding over the case, to act merely as witness.

Following one of many objections from White, the following exchanged occurred:

Flournoy: "What?"

Barnes: "OK, wait."

White: "Judge, we're going to — I'll put two objections on the record at this point, because now we have a judge on the stand. We moved not to bring him in for this very reason, because I have to practice in front of him."

Barnes: "Well now Your Honor—"

White: "Let me finish my objection. You let me finish my objection."

Barnes: "Well then I ask the jury to be excused."

Grubbs said to Flournoy during one exchange, "Just wait until he asks you. I know it's difficult. It's hard for a lawyer to testify. We've been through it, I know. It's even harder for a judge."