Photo courtesy of Columbus Compact Corporation
The Franklin Park Trolley Barn, an 1880s era historic brick trolley barn complex located at the corner of Oak Street and Kelton Avenue one block south of Franklin Park, went through yet another stage in this saga which has been dragging on since its first appearance before Environmental Court in 2005. On March 5th, the Environmental Court certified a $30,000 judgment in favor of the City of Columbus, which gave the city standing to initiate a foreclosure process. The judgment lien came about through a September 2012 court agreement whereby the City agreed to allow the Trolley Barn’s owner, Minnie McGee, six months to list the property at $500,000. (The Franklin County Auditor website lists the market value at $189,000.) In exchange, McGee agreed to the certification of a $30,000 judgment should the property not be sold by March 5th. The property was not sold during that period, and the judgment was certified last month as a result. City Attorney Rick Pfeiffer explains “the goal is to find somebody to buy, restore and fix up the property. The judgment preserves for us the right to take the property to foreclosure.” Pfeiffer did not address the time frame by which the city might act. This court action is the latest in this long saga that began with a nuisance complaint to environmental court in 2005, that resulted in a Permanent Injunction requiring McGee to rehab and take “prompt and continued steps to preserve the property.” After a growing chorus of complaints by the Franklin Park Civic Association and others, the city re­opened the 2005 nuisance case and a January 25, 2013 on­site hearing was held by then­Judge Hale to see first­hand the property and hear from neighbors. The trial was continued until February 28th without resolution. On February 21st, the City filed a Motion requesting the court to appoint a receiver to oversee a sale of the property, and indeed at the hearing on February 28th court receiver Mark Froelich was in the courtroom with a brand new manila folder with the words “Franklin Park Trolley Barn Receivership” scrawled across the front. However, during the trial, City Attorney Rick Pfeiffer walked into the courtroom and whispered to Assistant City Attorney Kristen Kroelich, who was prosecuting the case, and then left. Within minutes, Kroelich announced to Judge Hale that the City was withdrawing its motion to appoint a receiver, and instead was asking that fines of $250 per day accumulate against the property in accordance with state law. Judge Hale reluctantly agreed, and found McGee in contempt of the court’s 2006 order, ordered the daily fee to be assessed, and then said “this neighborhood had suffered long enough” and it was time for action ­­ so he was retaining jurisdiction for a sale. Judge Hale then set an April 8th hearing date to again consider the issue of a court ordered sale. At the April 8th hearing, Robert Wood, the attorney for McGee, came in with an appraisal dated March 21st prepared by appraiser Kent Smith for the City of Columbus Land Redevelopment Office that asserted the property value was $337,000. This was in direct conflict with previous appraisals before the court by the Robert Weiler Company that valued the property at $190,000 and the Franklin County Auditor’s assessment of its market value at $189,000. Judge Hale exploded, questioning why the City got this appraisal and saying that with this discrepancy he now had no choice but to continue the case to another future date. In June 2013 the City filed to reduce the accumulated fine to a $16,000 judgment. McGee opposed that judgment saying she hadn’t been properly served, and the City responded in August withdrawing its $16,000 judgment and seeking a $30,000 judgment since more time had elapsed and more fines had accumulated. Judge Hawkins attended a September 13th meeting of the Franklin Park Civic Association, but was unable to address the litigation as it was pending ­­ although he did hear an earful from residents upset that McGee dumped some 50 dump truck loads of dirt in the lot for some vague purposes to use on site. At some point, discussions were held with the City whereby McGee was instructed not to move the dirt and it remains in dump piles to this day. The recent certification of that judgment puts the ball squarely in the City’s court, with respect to moving forward.