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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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10/24/2013 2:28:00 PM
Jerome, Grand Hotel reach settlement deadline

Yvonne Gonzalez
Staff Reporter


Today is the deadline for parties in the Jerome Grand Hotel lawsuit to notify the Federal Magistrate Court in Flagstaff that they have finalized a settlement.

The three-year feud began in early December 2010 when the Jerome Fire Department closed down the hotel for 45 days because of safety issues. The preliminary settlement that could be finalized today gives Larry Altherr and his brother Robert $150,000 from the town to make safety improvements to the Jerome Grand Hotel.

Altherr said he lost about $20,000 in business through the closure of his hotel, which does not include employees who were paid through the holidays and the damage done to the reputation of a historic hotel deemed unsafe for occupancy.

"There are no winners in this," Altherr said. "We're just trying to solve this so we can all move on with our lives."

In mid-January, a Yavapai County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Altherrs' injunction to reopen the hotel. They had added sprinkler systems and fire alarms to each floor, and installed a working fire hydrant.

"Everyone really was working with us to see what it would take (to reopen)," Altherr said.

Town Manager Candace Gallagher declined to comment on the specifics of the settlement and on whether these types of disputes couldn't be handled to avoid legal costs to the town. She said the town's lawyers are still "fine tuning" the settlement.

Jerome Mayor Nikki Check said the issue could still go back to mediation. Both parties agree to the skeletal outline of the Sept. 16 agreement, but details are still being discussed.

Built in 1926, the hotel has one main stairwell and wooden transoms above the doors on each floor. Unlike the mostly wood elementary school that now serves as the town hall, the Jerome Grand Hotel is made almost completely of concrete, which Altherr said makes it even safer by isolating fires to the floor where they start.

According to the most recent set of fire and safety codes, there needs to be at least one other means of egress on each floor, and the transoms need to be sealed shut. The Altherrs had also failed to obtain permits for unfinished improvement projects, a building code violation.

The preliminary settlement orders the town to pay the Jerome Grand Hotel $100,000 within 30 days of the execution of the settlement, and put $50,000 in an escrow account with Yavapai Title Agency.

The settlement stipulates that $40,000 of the escrow account funds will be disbursed upon completion of the second stairwell, and $10,000 when the transoms are sealed or removed for replacements that automatically close in the event of a fire.

"It's safe now, but if the town's going to pay me to do it, I'd look like a fool if I said no," Altherr said.

Keeping historic buildings safe is an issue Jerome and local business owners have grappled over before. Most recently, Haunted Group duo Eric and Michelle Jurisin won a legal battle in December 2008 to allow The Haunted Hamburger to open its upper floor and encroach on town land to build a fire escape.

The town spent nearly $84,000 in legal fees during fiscal year 2006-2007. By early 2008, Jerome had paid Jurisin more than $20,000 to settle the civil case.

"We've too had issues where we had to go to court when I didn't think it was necessary," Jurisin said. "But at that time, they didn't have an appeal board in place to help with these decisions."

Altherr said many town codes allow for an appeals board made up of members with no connection to the town to avoid bias. Members of Jerome's town council serve as the appeals board.

The town's appeals document also states that the parties must agree to the final decision of the appeals board, and cannot appeal the decision to another court.

Altherr crossed this line out when he first filed his appeal, and when the town would not accept his documents with that change, he decided to pursue other legal action.

"You can't make it so you can't appeal their decision, especially since you don't have an unbiased appeals board to begin with," Altherr said.

Though the deadline to finalize the settlement with the court is Oct. 25, the town's attorneys had been making changes to the wording in the settlement last week.

"They're trying to insert things that were not in the agreement, and we're trying to expand on things that weren't in the actual agreement," Altherr said. "It needs to be kept as simple as possible, but it was getting a little complicated because both sides don't trust each other."

If the parties notify the court that an agreement has not been reached, Altherr said he hopes for a settlement by the end of next week.

"Where it is now, we have not heard back from our attorney," he said. "We instructed him to make the contract as simple as possible and go with what was agreed on in Flagstaff and not add on anything to that."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Article comment by: Anonymous For a Reason

Unfortunately, most of you do not have all the facts or background on this, and most likely never will. Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes those who claim to be the victims turn out to be the perpetrators.

Posted: Saturday, October 26, 2013
Article comment by: Rich Hillyer

It has nothing to do with safety issues. It has everything to do with the police chief of Jerome owning a bed and breakfast that would suffer in competition with the Grand Hotel.

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013
Article comment by: Slater slater

Don't forget the Yuppies

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013
Article comment by: Imagined big fish

in a tiny little town.

Nothing like arrogance and the illusion of power to feed the arrogance.

It appears the people of Jerome enjoy paying for their mistakes more so than the people of Maricopa County enjoy paying for Arpaio's.

Hey, whatever floats their boats...


Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013
Article comment by: Brian Carlson

In both the Jurisin and Altherr cases it is clear that people within the local government have a axe to grind. The Jurisin's and the Altherr's are just good people trying to make a living. Why not leave them alone?

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013
Article comment by: Crony politics In Jerome still

What a shame a handful of mean spirited and evil people have hijacked Jerome and their politics. Maybe it's time for the wannabe loving hippies that came here in the last decade or two go back where they came from and leave our historic little town alone.

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2013
Article comment by: Colleen Punt

All the best to the Grand Hotel.



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