Print Hotel still closed as fight continues
Written by Greg Ruland   
Wednesday, 05 January 2011 00:00

Town of Jerome records show owners of Jerome Grand Hotel “substantially complied” with orders by town officials to correct a variety of unsafe conditions but refused to pay the cost of new architectural drawings and were criminally charged as a result.

Exposed wiring at Jerome Grand Hotel was alleged to violate the town’s fire code.Town officials closed the Jerome Grand Hotel on Dec. 8 calling it “unsafe,” prompting owners Larry and Robert Altherr to sue in Yavapai County Superior Court on Dec. 14. They demanded an unspecified amount of damages and asked a judge to order the hotel reopened.

Fire code violations the town considered unsafe allegedly included exposed wiring, improper storage of chemicals and a lack of fire escape plans, but most of these conditions were remedied by Sept. 1, according to a report by Police Chief Alan Muma.

Questions about alleged building code violations, including a lack of up-to-date architectural drawings, appear to have triggered criminal citations against hotel owners, closure of the hotel, and ultimately, a lawsuit.

The Altherrs claim the town’s decision to close the hotel cost them $43,000 in reservations and a loss of income estimated at $2,551 per day, according to court records.

The town has not yet answered the Altherrs’ allegations in court and town officials like Town Manager Candace Gallagher and Fire Chief Rusty Blair decline to answer questions about the lawsuit or the incidents leading up to it.

Town records, however, show an exchange of verbal and written communication between town officials and hotel owners that started June 7, about a week after Jerome Fire Department responded to an emergency call at the hotel and discovered a turnaround area for emergency vehicles was blocked.

In a July 21 letter, Blair notified Robert Altherr of several violations including failure to change out holiday lighting after 90 days, failure to provide proper access for emergency vehicles and failure to allow fire officials to complete an inspection of the hotel July 12.

Altherr attempted to appeal the notices of violation in writing by letter hand-delivered to Blair July 29, but was notified his appeal was not in proper form. A subsequent appeal filed on Oct. 14 was “never received by Town of Jerome,” according to a hand-written notation on copies of records. A third appeal, which has not yet been heard, was filed by Altherr’s attorney Dec. 27.

Chemicals stored at Jerome Grand Hotel were alleged to violate the town’s fire code after an inspection conducted by Fire Chief Rusty Blair on Aug. 23.The Altherrs’ dispute with the town came to a head Aug. 23, when Robert Altherr refused to allow Blair and Police Chief Alan Muma to enter the hotel and conduct a follow-up inspection when they appeared at a prearranged time shortly after 11 a.m. By 1:15 p.m., a town magistrate issued a search warrant giving Muma authority to search the hotel for building and fire code violations.

According to Muma’s written report about the inspection, investigators found a large-diameter ductile iron sewer pipe open to a room, exposed electrical wiring, fire sprinkler heads covered with rags, numerous extension cords, unknown liquids next to machinery and no fire escape plans posted in any room.

“All of these items were present at the time of the inspection, and the building was in use, with restaurant customers as well as overnight hotel guests present in the building,” according to Muma’s report.

Altherr again denied Muma, Blair and a building inspector access to the building during a follow-up inspection Aug. 28, causing Muma to again obtain a search warrant.

During the Aug. 28 inspection, Muma alleges in a police report that he discovered “substantial new construction in several areas of the building” he believed were previously closed off by locked doors.

“There appeared to be new rooms being added to both ends of the second floor of the building. These areas contained new partition walls, electrical work, plumbing and mechanical work in various stages,” Muma wrote.

At this point, Altherr agreed to correct the items considered dangerous and “substantially completed” the required corrections by Sept. 1, according to Muma’s report.

Altherr said the construction Muma characterized as “new” was actually abandoned months previously and was not under way at the time of the inspection.

Parking at Jerome Grand Hotel prevent emergency vehicles access to the rear of the hotel, in violation of the town's fire code.On Sept. 2, David Stiever, the town’s chief building official, sent a letter directing Altherr to provide complete architectural renderings of the entire building and ground showing all electrical, mechanical, plumbing and natural gas systems, a task Altherr alleges would have cost the hotel $60,000. Stiever also asked for a site plan for the exterior of the building showing building setbacks and a new parking plan.

According to Altherr, the drawings are not required because the town already issued certificates of occupancy for the hotel based on drawings submitted to the town in 1996 and 1997, drawings the town could not immediately locate.

At an Oct. 4 meeting with Stiever, Altherr failed to provide the requested drawings and plans. Steiver notified Altherr he would be criminally charged for lack of compliance.

On Oct. 12, Muma cited Robert and Larry Altherr for three violations of the Jerome Town Code, including failure to obtain a building permit, failure to provide documents to building officials and maintaining an unsafe structure.

Attempts by Altherr’s attorney to resolve the dispute were unsuccessful after town officials ordered the hotel closed one week before a Dec. 15 meeting scheduled to seek a resolution, town records show.