Injunction stops Phoebe from moving ahead with project

·2 min read

Sep. 10—ALBANY — The on-again, off-again nature of what is turning into a saga surrounding Phoebe Putney Health System's plan to build a nursing education/residence facility at which Albany Technical College will train nurses to help address a shortage that runs through local, state and national health care facilities is off again.

Officials with the Albany-Dougherty Historic Preservation Commission asked for and received an emergency injunction from Dougherty Superior Court Judge Victoria Darrisaw on Saturday halting plans by Phoebe to start demolition and site preparation on four buildings that the hospital expects to demolish to make way for the planned $40 million project.

Phoebe's efforts to start work on the project in mid-August were thwarted when the HPC voted 4-3 not to grant Certificates of Appropriateness needed for work in the city of Albany's historic district. The Historic Preservation Commission said the demolition of four structures in the district, including a building owned by Phoebe that was built in 1925 and has served as Albany High School and Albany Middle School, was not best use of the structure.

The Albany City Commission voted unanimously to approve the Certificates of Appropriateness when the HPC refused to do so, but the latter board filed a motion in court to overrule the city, which along with the Dougherty County Commission appoints members to the Historic Preservation Commission.

City officials, however, notified Phoebe on Friday that the city was issuing the necessary permits to allow the Phoebe-Albany Technical College Living and Learning Community project to move forward based on the City Commission's earlier unanimous decision to approve Certificates of Appropriateness. Construction crews moved equipment into place late Friday and started work on the project before Marshal granted the injunction early Saturday, halting work.

"At the urging of the HPC, a Superior Court judge signed their injunction request this morning, and we had to send work crews home," Phoebe Health System President/CEO Scott Steiner said Saturday. "More wasted $$."

HPC member Hope Campbell said she did not want to talk about the ongoing confrontation that has driven a wedge between members of the community. The City Commission, Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and prominent citizens in the community have condemned actions taken by the HPC, accusing the board of overstepping its authority.

"It appears the City Commission cannot unilaterally make a decision granting Phoebe the right to move forward with the project until it is heard in Superior Court," Campbell said. "We received a temporary restraining order this morning, so they had to stop work on the project."

Darrisaw in her order offered no time frame in which the court will consider the matter. Steiner has said if construction does not begin on the project by "mid-September at the latest," the facility will not be completed in time for a planned fall 2024 opening.