Phoebe consummates its final condemnation - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe consummates its final condemnation

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November 10, 2006

Albany -- You now have more protection against having your property seized by the government. A Georgia constitutional amendment voters approved Tuesday will prevent private businesses from seizing your property.

Sadly, though, the law is too late for a 93-year-old Albany woman who's home was seized by Phoebe Putney Hospital.  

Friday morning, a giant earth mover started destruction on the Fourth Avenue home at the center of a controversial eminent domain lawsuit last year.  Phoebe Putney's Hospital Board used eminent domain laws to seize 93-year-old Julia Lemon's home of a quarter-century. 

Phoebe wanted the property to expand its Family Tree Early Child Development Center, which provides daycare services for their employees. The house owner, Julie Montgomery, fought Phoebe in court to keep her friend Lemon's home, but the hospital board then had the power to seize the home and did. 

Under today's Georgia law they can not.  Montgomery said she is glad for the new protection.  "People can't go to court and deal with big institutions like Phoebe.  So I'm glad that law is on the books, and I hope other people don't have to go through this."

A Dougherty County jury awarded Lemon $51,000 in compensation, and gave Julie Montgomery $200,000 for the house-- nearly five times what Phoebe offered. The jury could not stop Phoebe from seizing the house, but sent a statement that they did not approve, with the large money award.

Phoebe officials say they are not sure when construction will begin on the expansion of Family Tree, but they need to double the size of the center. Phoebe Human Resources Vice President Dave Baranski said, "We have over 213 children on the waiting list. So the demand for that facility is very high for that particular service."

Baranski says getting better quality health care workers and keeping them at Phoebe is greatly influenced by Family Tree's ability to take care of employees' children, and that better employees means better health care for South Georgians.

But Montgomery said it was too high a price to pay. "She did not want to move. There was no permanent harm done, just how you count the trauma of moving from somewhere you have been 25 years."  

The new Georgia amendment will assure that only elected government officials can use eminent domain laws to seize private property.  But it comes too late for the house on Fourth Avenue, Julia Lemon's home.  Lemon moved out of her house in July and now lives a couple of blocks away.

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