Future of Crossroads Apartments in Perry still uncertain

bpurser@macon.comMay 28, 2014 

PERRY -- Mark and Miriam Green, of Bonaire, say they’ve been working hard to comply with mandated improvements needed to bring Crossroads Apartments up to code.

The Greens, who grew up in Byron, have a vision of restoring Crossroads Apartments on Gen. Courtney Hodges Boulevard to its original state. The couple, who in mid-November took over the 85-year-old motel that had been converted into apartments, are in a legal battle with the city of Perry.

In February, the fire marshal and chief building inspector found tenants were in imminent danger based on alleged code violations after a spot inspection spurred by a complaint from someone at a nearby business. After a halted eviction, an injunction is now in play.

In granting the 60-day injunction in March, Houston County Superior Court Judge Edward D. Lukemire required that the owners, managers and tenants provide the city with unlimited access to the property for inspection. Once the inspection was completed, the city was required to provide a list of all code violations and the remediation needed to bring violations into compliance.

In April, an inspection was done by Deputy Chief David Stanton, who’s also the city’s fire marshal, along with a representative of the state fire marshal’s office and a city building inspector. The inspection resulted in the issuance of two lists.

The city and state fire marshals compiled one list, and the city building inspector compiled the other. Items on the lists ranged from covering exposed wiring throughout the building to the addition of fire extinguishers.

“It is the city of Perry’s hope that your client’s property can be brought up to code, and the city intends to work with your client as long as timely and continuous work is being done in reaching the code compliance goal,” City Attorney David Walker stated in an April 21 letter to the couple’s attorney. The lists and a cover letter from Stanton were included.

The Greens were given 30 days to complete work on the lists and were told that the deadline could be periodically extended 15 to 30 days as long as progress was made toward compliance.

Working to improve the apartments has not been an issue for Mark Green, who has a background in property management and construction. Tenants say he’s done more to improve the apartments and grounds since taking over than was done in the past 10 years.

Most issues that resulted in the imminent danger declaration and announced eviction of tenants have been corrected, Stanton said.

“They did a lot of work before we got there” for the subsequent inspection, he said.

Green said most of the work related to the imminent danger declaration was completed before the court hearing that resulted in the injunction. He said he thinks most of the items on the punch lists are minor, and he’s working to address them. He said he didn’t think anything on the lists was related to imminent danger.

He added that he was troubled about not having been issued a certificate of occupancy as requested, especially since it’s one of the required items on the fire marshal’s list.

Green also noted that “the imminent danger and no occupancy” notices posted by the city on the apartment buildings are still in place.

Nonetheless, he said he’s been working with the city to make the improvements.

“I think in the end, we’ll win, and maybe the city of Perry will want us to continue to do business,” Green said.

Battle lines

However, even if Green successfully completes the lists, it’s questionable whether the apartments will stay open. Stanton said that depends on the type of occupancy sought by the Greens.

“We don’t want to shut anybody down,” he said. “Our job is to go into a business, inspect for fire violations and let the business owner know so that the violations can be corrected.”

Stanton said each occupancy use -- such as for a hotel-motel, an extended-stay boarding house or apartments -- has its own set of applicable fire codes. He said zoning issues may also come into play.

The lists provided to the Greens is the minimum work needed to bring the structure into compliance with fire and building codes to operate regardless of the occupancy use that is chosen, Stanton said.

While Green described the lists as minor repairs, Stanton noted Item 15 requires an inspection by a structural engineer for the downstairs rooms at the back of the complex. Whether those structures are safe to be occupied ultimately determines whether the apartments above them can be inhabited, Stanton said.

Those vacant and rundown apartments are mostly boarded up now. They had been accessible to anyone, causing Stanton concern at the first inspection that a vagrant might start a fire to warm himself and set the entire complex ablaze, Stanton said.

Clarence Williams, Green’s attorney, was surprised to learn of Stanton’s position.

Williams said it’s his understanding that the city required Green to state his occupancy before the inspection could be done and that Green told city officials he was operating as a motel. Then the inspection took place. Once Green met the requirements of the lists, Williams said he thought Green would receive a certificate of occupancy.

“I thought we were about done with this,” Williams said. If Green meets the minimum requirements that the state fire marshal’s office says he has to meet, he ought to be able to operate however he chooses, Williams added.

After hearing about the lists and what’s on them, residents expressed confidence Green will ultimately prevail.

“I trust the Lord, and you know, he’ll take care of me,” said 62-year-old Willie Bass, a disabled Vietnam War veteran. “I think we won the battle, but we’re still fighting the war.

“It’s not over yet. But I think with the improvements that Mr. Green is making and the clientele that they’re getting in now, you know, I think it’s going to be fine.”

A church at the complex

Meanwhile, the Church of God by Faith wants to start a new church in Perry and plans to use a large room at the front of Crossroads Apartments to hold Bible studies and worship services, said Elder Eddie Robinson, who’s expected to pastor the new church. He said he already helped start a Church of God by Faith in Byron.

Robinson said the church expects to lease the front part of the building for one year while considering and hopefully finalizing the purchase of the former site of the New Hope Baptist Church in Perry.

He said he was “not that concerned” about the legal battle between the Greens and the city. And while he said he didn’t mind helping Green, that was not his reason for locating there.

“It’s primarily to get a church started,” he said.

Miriam Green was busy last week painting the large room that the church wants to use. Robinson said he hopes Sunday night services can start as early as Sunday.

But “that’s not going to happen,” said Stanton, who learned of the plans Friday after dropping in to see how the Greens were progressing.

Stanton said renting the room as a clubhouse would fall under the fire codes for assemblies, which require a two-hour separation between the assembly and tenants. A two-hour separation means it would take a fire two hours to burn through a barrier between the room and apartments, he said.

What Mark Green needs to do, Stanton said, is to come in and sit down with Stanton and a city building inspector and talk about what he’d like to do, and they’d all try to figure out what’s feasible and what’s not.

Williams, who said he wasn’t previously aware of the church issue, said churches meet in store fronts and hotel lobbies all across the country, and he doesn’t see why Green cannot rent that space to the church.

Green said Stanton told him Friday he would need to add a fire wall between the large room and tenants, which he said he can do himself. But Stanton also told him he would need to hire an engineer to add the fire wall, Green said.

Green said it seems to him that no matter what he fixes that the city continues to add to the list. Taking the church issue out of the equation, Green said his understanding was that once he fixed the items on the list, he would be free to continue operation.

But he said he plans to sit down with Stanton and others, and he remains hopeful that issues can be resolved.

Green said he may want to operate as an “extended-stay.” Regardless of how the rentals are provided, the same improvements need to be made.

He said he wants to meet code and continue operating. But he doesn’t think he should be expected to change the whole structure or that the city should be able to continually add to the list.

Pending litigation

Meanwhile, there’s a lawsuit filed by the Greens and Warner Robins Realtor Ron Rowland pending. The lawsuit seeks actual damages for income lost by the Greens from tenants who moved out when the eviction was announced and for rent monies that had been collected but were paid back.

Punitive damages against the city are also sought. Attorneys representing the city denied in response to the complaint alleged attempts to circumvent the due process rights of the Greens and Rowland. Rowland holds the mortgage on the apartments, which he sold to the Greens. If the Greens default, the property reverts back to Rowland.

The Greens and Rowland filed suit after the city attempted to shut down the apartments and evict its tenants.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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