Battle between Albany City Commission and Historic Preservation Commission escalates

Aug. 17 – ALBANY – A decision on Tuesday allowing the demolition of four buildings and part of an old school building to make way for a facility for training and housing nursing students has raised the possibility of a court battle between Albany and Albany.

After the Albany City Commission overturned a 4-3 vote by the Albany-Dougherty Historic Preservation Commission, the HPC filed an intention to sue in the County Superior Court of Dougherty.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital filed four certificates of permission to proceed, and a COA was filed by the Phoebe Hospital Authority, all of which were denied following a July 12 hearing. The other four buildings are two craftsman style houses dating from 1919, a Victorian house built in 1904 and a medical building from the 1960s.

Phoebe plans to build a $40 million “Center for Living and Learning,” a partnership between the hospital and Albany Technical College, across North Jefferson Street from the hospital on site with classroom space on the first floor and two floors of apartments. His proposal includes preserving the facade of the old Albany High School/Albany Junior High building, itself an expenditure of more than $1 million that will restore it to its original appearance since its construction.

A Tuesday notice titled “Albany-Dougherty Historic Planning Commission v. Albany City Board of Commissioners” signed by HPC Board Member Hope Campbell said “Notice is hereby given that the Albany-Dougherty Historic Planning Commission, appellant herein, appeals to the Dougherty County Superior Court from the decision of the Board of Commissioners for the City of Albany entered August 16, 2022.”

The city responded Wednesday with a letter, signed by Mayor Bo Dorough, saying the HPC “abused its discretion” by refusing to issue the certificates of approval.

“In summary, the HPC filing contains no specific finding that the proposed material changes in appearance would have significant adverse impacts on the aesthetic, historic, or architectural significance and value of the historic property or historic district,” indicates the letter.

The city has asked the HPC to issue the certificates of approval by 5 p.m. Friday, and if that action is not taken, the letter will serve as a grant of those certificates.

For City Commissioner Chad Warbington, the situation of a board of directors, four of whom are appointed by the city and operating as a city department, suing the commission is ridiculous.

“I think they’re losing sight of who they work for, what team they’re on,” he said on Wednesday. “They basically part ways with the team. They had a 4-3 vote. They had a very slim vote that could easily have gone the other way. Our vote was unanimous. This should be a slam-dunk “It’s over, done with, in my opinion. Your elected officials are the highest authority in local government. I don’t understand their rationale.”

The HPC made no substantive arguments on Tuesday, the commissioner said.

“The biggest argument yesterday was a lot of technical legal maneuvering,” he said.

For Warbington, the project and preservation of the facade will preserve the historic look while improving the overall look of this part of North Jefferson Street. He said the City Commission had always approved HPC’s recommendations during his tenure with the body and that the HPC served an important function.

“People have differences of opinion every day,” he said. “Just because we have a different opinion doesn’t mean their goal is devalued. They have enormous value.”

Last week, the commission denied a request from the HPC for the city to pay its legal fees in the case, an idea Warbington said he opposes because it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money for a municipal service is suing the city.

The project will be a significant boon to the city and region, he said, giving residents of the economically challenged area the opportunity to secure well-paying jobs and build successful careers close to home without relocating. .

“I think the starting salary for a two-year degree is $65,000,” he said. “They’re local kids. We’re bringing people in from Early County, we’re pulling out from a seven-county region.”

In a presentation Tuesday at the hearing, Phoebe Health System President and CEO Scot Steiner pointed to the shortage of nurses, which stands at 28,000 in Georgia.

“Phoebe Putney has 500 vacancies today,” he said. “Three hundred of them are nurses. It’s a crisis, that’s for sure.”

The center is expected to help Albany Tech increase its number of nursing graduates from a projected 233 this year to 350 next year and 470 in 2024.

During his remarks, Steiner referenced the late president of Albany Tech, Anthony Parker.

“It started with Dr. Parker,” he said. “When we went to see Dr Parker, he said ‘Let’s go big’. It’s part of his vision.”

A good number of nurses have left the field during the COVID-19 crisis, Dorough said, comparing it to the city’s experience with police officers – fewer staff means longer hours and more stress and ultimately to their search for another job or to go elsewhere.

“The HPC would be of the view that the economic benefit to the community is not an economic consideration, but clearly we have a shortage of nurses,” he said. “It would expand Albany Tech’s curriculum and, within two years, put students on the job market to remedy this situation.”

In an email response Wednesday to the Herald, HPC Chairman Bryant Harden disputed the city commission’s assertion that the council abused its discretion in the case and that the demolition of the old school building would have a negative impact on the historic nature of the site.

He pointed to a report from city planning department staff prepared for the July 12 hearing that said “the existing middle school was built in 1925 and is considered a contributing building in the historic district. Its ID Resource ID is 216939 in Georgia’s Natural, Archeological, and Historic Resources GIS Database (GNAHRGIS).This existing middle school is one of the few school buildings that have historical significance in Albany-Dougherty County. Middle School’s architectural style is Beaux-Arts.

The house built in 1904″ is considered a contributing building in the Historic District. The house appears to be of historic significance and is identified in the Georgia Natural, Archaeological, and Historic Resources GIS (GNAHRGIS) by Resource ID #214608. The house is listed in the city’s historical survey as well.”

The decision was made in accordance with the local Historic Preservation Commission and adopted design guidelines adopted in 2000 and 2017, Harden said, and the school building and Christian Science Church on North Monroe Street have been identified as structures that need to be preserved with ordinary maintenance and repairs. , “protecting their character and integrity”.

“Keep in mind that the HPC approved the $140 million expansion proposed by Phoebe in June of this year,” Harden said. “With this approval, the HPC asked Phoebe to provide a maintenance plan for the Christian Science Reading Room and they complied. However, for some reason Phoebe completely ignored our guidelines for this school.

“The applications were denied because the HPC determined that the proposed demolitions would have a negative negative impact on the individual historic properties and the historic district. Each of the subject properties was considered to be a contribution to the structures of the historic district.”

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation supports the HPC on the issue and has written a letter stating that the demolition would negatively affect both individual historic properties and the historic district.

The HPC is not opposed to the facility, Harden said, and presented options the hospital could use that would preserve history.

“I personally think it’s a great idea, but I’m confident Phoebe’s goals can be achieved without tearing the school down,” he said.

Comments are closed.