Heritage Square condo owners suing real estate investor
Athens Banner-Herald
By Jim Thompson
03 January 2017

Heritage Square    Photo John Roark  Athens Banner-Herald

Owners of 10 condominiums in the 46-unit Heritage Square development in Athens are suing local real estate investor Fred Moorman in an attempt to stop him from forcing the sale of their units and taking over the neighborhood.

Over the last 10 years, Moorman has acquired units in Heritage Square, on Sunset Drive near Oglethorpe Avenue across from Bishop Park. He is now close to acquiring 80 percent of the units, the threshold in state law at which he would be able to force the other owners to sell.

As of late 2016, Moorman owned 35 of the 46 units, or 76 percent of the complex. In the last few months of 2016, Moorman bought seven Heritage Square condominiums through a corporation called 262 College Avenue LLC.

As he has acquired the units, Moorman has become a larger and larger force in Heritage Square’s business affairs, as the association’s bylaws have increased his voting power. Tenants and owners of his Heritage Square units have become a majority of the community’s condominium association board, and Moorman himself now chairs that board.

In the lawsuit filed last week in Clarke County Superior Court, the property owners are asking, in part, that “the election of Moorman and his affiliates and the appointment of Moorman’s associates [to the condominium board] be invalidated and voided, that they be removed as officers and directors and that they be permanently barred from said offices in the future.”

high-pressure tactics

The lawsuit goes on to allege that sales prices of units acquired by Moorman have been inaccurately reported, which has driven down values of other units in Heritage Square. The lawsuit also contends Moorman has used high-pressure tactics, including threats of eviction, suggestions that the prices he would pay for condominiums would drop significantly after he acquired 80 percent of the units, and contending he could arbitrarily raise condominium association fees, in an attempt to get favorable deals on the remaining Heritage Square units.

the Moorman-led group approved a $125 monthly increase in condominium association fees

Some evidence of that approach came at a Nov. 29 meeting of the condominium association board, as the Moorman-led group approved a $125 monthly increase in condominium association fees, which Moorman contended was needed to address plumbing problems and other issues in the neighborhood.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who include former Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Jack Lumpkin and Athens native Michael Thurmond, now CEO of the government of metropolitan Atlanta’s DeKalb County, are seeking monetary damages of “not less than $100,000 per condo unit” in addition to attorney’s fees and “such other relief that this court deems proper.”

Following the Nov. 29 condominium board meeting, Moorman said he has been acquiring the Heritage Square units as part of a long-term effort to transform the neighborhood into a mix of residential, commercial and retail buildings.

That effort would also include other properties he owns in the area, including the Sunset, Park Place and Boardwalk apartment complexes, he said. The area is already home to a number of office complexes, most of them hosting medical offices.

“I think it would be a great mixed-use development,” Moorman said after the Nov. 29 meeting, the final board meeting of last year. The condominium board’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 31 at Heritage Square.

Moorman said he sees the area, which borders the University of Georgia Health Sciences Campus in the nearby Normaltown neighborhood, much as he viewed downtown Athens when he began acquiring property there and transforming it into residential units aimed largely at student renters.

Moorman has residential space in 10 downtown buildings, most of them along three blocks of East Clayton Street.

“I think this [the Sunset Drive area] is the same unpainted slate” as downtown Athens had been some years ago, Moorman said.

Moorman noted the long-term nature of his plan

At the same time, though, Moorman noted the long-term nature of his plan, and said, “I doubt I’m going to be the one to carry out the vision.”

Moorman did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the lawsuit. Also, neither the spokesman for the Heritage Square property owners, nor the property owner who filed the lawsuit, had returned telephone calls as of late Tuesday afternoon.

Moorman has 30 days from the date it was filed to respond to the lawsuit.

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