Harrison County

Two of three issues up in the air in case of unfinished condos

Residents of the Inn by the Sea condominiums, left, have been neighbors to the unfinished Village at Henderson Point project for years. Harrison County ordered the Village structures be demolished in 2016, and the owner is fighting that order in court.
Residents of the Inn by the Sea condominiums, left, have been neighbors to the unfinished Village at Henderson Point project for years. Harrison County ordered the Village structures be demolished in 2016, and the owner is fighting that order in court. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Henderson Point residents won’t know the fate of the unfinished skeleton of a condominium complex on the beach for several weeks.

Circuit Court Judge Chris Schmidt ruled that the Harrison County’s order to demolish the structures at 101 4th Avenue does not amount to an unconstitutional taking of the property. He took under advisement two other arguments by the company, 101 4th Avenue LLC, and gave attorneys for both sides until Jan. 15 to file further written arguments.

M. Brant Pettis, attorney for the company owned by Robert Mack of Staten Island, N.Y., also had argued the county Board of Supervisors used the wrong state law in its proceedings and didn’t prove the property was blighted. He said the owner wanted to complete the project but was unable to get a building permit.

County attorney Tim Holleman said the law the county relied on was requested by the county, a request sparked by its attempts to deal with the condo property. The law Pettis said the county should have used caps at $20,000 the amount a government can recoup from a property owner for the expense of tearing down blighted property. The new law, which applies only to Harrison County, has no cap.

For example, Jackson County has had to demolish a burned out hotel in two phases because of the cap.

Holleman said witnesses proved to supervisors that the property is blighted with their stories of teenagers roaming the site at night “drinking, carrying on and doing whatever teenagers do,” vagrants wandering around and rodents and other pests living on the property, which he said has been abandoned for years.

He said at least one rental deal fell through at the adjacent Inn by the Sea because the view is spoiled by the unfinished project and the property has caused other property values to decline.

“The truth is,” Holleman told Scmidt, “in 2008, they abandoned it. The current owner is nothing more than a second mortgagee.”

Mack got the property when the original developer ran out of money and was unable to pay off his loans.

The courtroom crowd, mostly people who live nearby and want the structures demolished, tittered a little when Pettis said, “The property has not been abandoned.”

He said the owner pays to have the grass mowed, the fence around the perimeter maintained and for pest control.

Holleman said even if the judge grants 101 4th Ave.’s appeal, the project probably can’t be completed because the existing structures don’t meet federal elevation requirements.

“They would either have to tear it down or get a variance from the flood law,” he said.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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