Mon, Dec. 09

A Look Back at 2011: Jerome loses Grand Hotel decision, wins in zoning appeal

The Jerome Grand Hotel was at the center of a long, drawn-out legal battle for the Town of Jerome in 2011. VVN file photo

The Jerome Grand Hotel was at the center of a long, drawn-out legal battle for the Town of Jerome in 2011. VVN file photo

JEROME - 2011 started with two legal battles for Jerome. The first actually began Dec. 8, 2010 when the Town of Jerome revoked the certificate of occupancy for the historic Jerome Grand Hotel.

The second started early in January when the town's Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to deny an appeal by Jack and Elizabeth Rappaport to the zoning administrator's decision that their duplex did not qualify for a non-conforming use under the zoning ordinance.

Grand Hotel closed as unsafe

Jerome officials said the decision to revoke the Jerome Grand Hotel's certificate of occupancy came after numerous attempts, over several months, to gain the hotel's compliance with alleged fire code and building code violations.

Hotel owners, Larry Altherr and Robert Altherr, filed for a preliminary injunction against the town in Yavapai County Superior Court.

Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley scheduled the injunction hearing for Jan. 7. That hearing ran well past the allotted time, and Ainley continued the case to the following Friday on Jan. 14.

Ainley said she does not like to continue preliminary hearings, but she felt that the Altherrs and their attorney John Phillips had substantially met the requirements for an injunction.

Based on testimony during the first hearing, the hotel was closed for two basic reasons. The first was the town wanted an additional fire escape in the hotel. The second was because the town discovered some unfinished work in the hotel that had been done without proper permits.

The town also wanted the hotel owners to provide stamped architectural drawings of the entire structure because of the unfinished work. The Altherrs contended that the cost of those drawings would be prohibitive and that they weren't necessary because no structural change had been made to the building.

Following another 3.5-hour session on Jan. 14, Ainley ordered the Town of Jerome to restore the certificate of occupancy to allow the Jerome Grand Hotel to reopen.

"I believe I know what the issues are," said Ainley. "The C of O (certificate of occupancy) should be reinstated."

Ainley said that both parties were well balanced on one of the primary issues. The town has authority to revoke a certificate of occupancy. But on a matter of public policy, the judge felt the Altherrs had prevailed. She said the certificate would be reinstated pending a trial on the merits.

Through the rest of 2011, the matter of a settlement between the town and the hotel had not been resolved. The Altherrs have not filed for a trial on the merits. The town, although the item has been put on several meeting agendas as an executive session discussion, has not taken any further action or entered into further negotiations with the Altherrs.

Rappaports take zoning decision to court

Town councilwoman Lisa Rappaport and her husband, Jack Rappaport, appealed a decision by Bill Jensen, zoning administrator, to the town's Board of Adjustment on Jan. 13. Prior to the appeal, the Rappaports filed a notice of claim with the town for $100,000.

The Rappaports own a rental unit at 208 Fifth St. in Jerome, which they consider a duplex. But Jensen had ruled that the legal use of the property is as a single-family residence.

In a unanimous vote of the three members of the five-member board who were present, the Board of Adjustment denied the Rappaports' appeal. One member of the board was absent, and Carol Yacht, who filed the complaint against the Rappaports, had to recuse herself and leave the hearing.

The three remaining members, Gary Shapiro, Joan Kennedy and Ron Richie, all voted to uphold the zoning administrator's decision.

The disagreement came about when Jensen was called upon to make an interpretation under the zoning ordinance whether the property in question could be used as a duplex. His decision was that it could not, based on two main points.

The first was that the property was not designed or occupied as a legal non-conforming duplex in 1977 when Jerome adopted a new zoning ordinance. His second point was that even if the property had been a duplex at the time of adoption of the new ordinance, such use of the property had been abandoned and now must conform to the current zoning laws.

Rappaports file suit

In late February, the Rappaports filed suit against Jerome over the matter in Yavapai County Superior Court. Superior Court Judge Michael Bluff scheduled oral arguments in the suit for Aug. 16. Following the arguments, Bluff said he would take the matter under advisement.

On Oct. 3, Bluff ruled in favor of the town in the special action case. In his conclusion, Bluff stated, "It is ordered the decision of the Town of Jerome's Board of Adjustment upholding the decision of the zoning administrator to reject the appeal of the Rappaports is affirmed."

Bluff further noted that even if the Rappaports' use had been legal, non-conforming, its use had ceased for more than six months and therefore had been abandoned.

Looking ahead to 2012

Both Town Manager Candace Gallagher and Mayor Jay Kinsella see water issues, especially water storage, as the most important projects for Jerome during the coming year.

"One that stands out is a project to refurbish two old water tanks on Cleopatra Hill," Gallagher said. "It's been a long time coming."

She said the town is probably looking to receive about $250,000 through a Community Development Block Grant that should cover the cost of a new 200,000-gallon water tank on Sunshine Hill.

"That will probably take up all of the grant," she said. "That will add fire protection. This is a huge priority."

Mayor Jay Kinsella agrees. He explained that the town built a new 200,000-gallon tank on Sunshine Hill recently with CDBG funds.

Kinsella explained that once the second new water tank is completed on Sunshine Hill, that will give the town enough reserve water capacity to draw down the water in the old tanks, one at a time, near the open pits. The water must be drawn down in order to complete the refurbishing work on the old tanks.

"Fire scares Jerome residents," Kinsella said. He said the two new 200,000-gallon tanks, once they are completed, along with two refurbished old tanks, will put the town in the best situation it has ever been in regarding water storage to fight fire.

Kinsella also said he is looking forward to completion of work to rebuild some walls in town that were damaged more than a year ago by a storm. He said Police Chief Allen Muma recently learned that the town will receive $40,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) for the work.

Aside from the water projects and rebuilding some damaged walls in town, Kinsella said, "I wish everyone in Jerome a prosperous new year."

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