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Plaza Towers attorney decries city’s ‘tone and tenor’
City officials question ‘motivation’ of the owner in suing the city for flood damage in 2013.
A Varnum attorney representing owners of the Plaza Towers in a suit filed against the city of Grand Rapids said he was “disappointed” by city officials’ “tone and tenor when they questioned the motives of my clients.”
City officials were commenting last week on a suit filed a few days earlier by Plaza Towers Condominium Association, which includes Paul Huele. The association’s attorney, Steve Afendoulis, said a pedestrian access opening the city made in the flood wall along the Grand River years ago allowed the April 2013 flood waters to enter the basement of the nearby Plaza Towers and its underground parking garage.
The amount of damages isn’t specified, but Afendoulis said he believes the total loss is “probably close to 10 million” dollars.
A press release issued by the city’s legal department stated the city will “question the motivations of Paul Huele, the downtown building owner, and his apparent desire to pass his costs on to city residents.”
Mayor George K. Heartwell was quoted in the release as saying the building owners are “trying to blame the city for an act of nature,” and City Attorney Catherine M. Mish said the owners made an “intentional business decision to ignore the structural problems” she said allowed a similar flood of the building 23 years ago.
“It’s not the responsibility of the taxpayers of Grand Rapids to pay an individual for a faulty building design,” said Mish.
Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said it was ironic that “the city provided extraordinary assistance to Plaza Towers in re-opening their facility to residents as soon as possible, including the issuance of a temporary occupancy permit well before final repairs were complete and helping pump water away from the building. It seems unreasonable that Plaza Towers would try to pass along these costs to the taxpayers of Grand Rapids.”
The city said it will also raise in court the issue that “insurance typically covers issues listed in the lawsuit, and if Mr. Huele is underinsured, it is not the fault of Grand Rapids taxpayers.”
On April 22, 2013, the Business Journal reported that the record flooding of the Grand River had caused five feet of water to come up from under the Plaza Towers basement concrete and flood the building’s below-ground parking garage. At that time, at least 24 parked vehicles were known to have been damaged. Millions of gallons of flood water had to be pumped from the building and garage.
Mish said concrete slabs under the building were “pushed up by extraordinary hydraulic pressure” during the flood, allowing water into the structure.
Because the building’s mechanical and electrical systems were located within the flooded underground parking area, power had to be cut off and Plaza Towers residents had to find temporary housing elsewhere for about two weeks, before being allowed to return.
Afendoulis said American citizens have a Constitutional right to be awarded damages to their private property caused by acts of government, “and the city response is to question their motive. I find that disappointing and unsettling.”
He said when the city built a pedestrian walkway from the river walk through the flood wall, “they cut a big hole in the flood wall, which in and of itself might have been just fine if they had designed the cutout to provide protection. But they, in essence, undertook what we believe is a defective design that directed millions of gallons of water onto private property and destroyed it.”
The city’s press release on the lawsuit states that “the city’s floodwalls were not breached during the flood, successfully protecting downtown Grand Rapids.”
The Amway Grand Plaza and the JW Marriott hotels also had to deal with basement flooding problems during the historic flood last year, according to a Business Journal report at the time.