By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — The owner of Warsaw’s Economy Inn has filed a civil suit against the City of Warsaw regarding the proposed demolition of his building.
During a Warsaw Code Enforcement meeting on June 22, Hearing Officer Thomas Earhart ordered the inn, located at 3521 Lake City Highway, be demolished. The building was damaged in a May 2019 windstorm.
Economy Inn’s owner, Jay Patel, was not present at the June code enforcement hearing. He operates the inn through the entity Hari Om Inc. Patel is being represented in this civil case by Lisa Gilkey-Schoetzow, Alex Bowling and James Byron, Elkhart.
On July 2, Patel filed a verified complaint for judicial review, as well as for preliminary and permanent injunctions in Kosciusko Circuit Court. Listed defendants are the City of Warsaw; Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer; and Warsaw Building Commissioner Ray Behling.
Documents state that following the May 2019 windstorm, Economy Inn required numerous and extensive repairs involving Patel’s insurance company. In October 2019, the aforementioned defendants issued an order to Patel pursuant to the Indiana Unsafe Building Law, requiring him to demolish and remove salvage on the property by Oct. 29, 2019.
Since the October 2019 code enforcement hearing, Patel has attended 18 review hearings concerning the property, all of which he has attended except for the June 22 meeting. He says he does not recall receiving written notice of the June hearing and did not think there would be a demolition order issued since he complied with the defendants’ requests.
In mid-summer 2019, a crew began damage cleanup, which continued for about two to three months. Court documents filed by Patel state the cost of the cleanup was about $350,000.
In fall 2019, Patel secured pre-approval for an additional bank loan for renovating the Economy Inn, with the loan closing and funding after the insurance matter was resolved. A new roof was installed on the building in March 2020, costing about $385,000.
Around October or November 2020, Patel returned to the bank which provided him pre-approval and was told since the hotel business was one of the hardest hit industries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, banks were not loaning money to hotels.
Patel states he continued to update the defendants on his progress in making repairs to Economy Inn by providing documentation as requested.
In February, Patel hired Badger Engineering to assist with plans for the renovated building. The engineering firm has provided plans of the new building to the defendants and also submitted them to the state for approval. Patel also argues in court documents that progress on the project has been delayed due to the pandemic, as well as labor and material shortages.
The civil filing states the demolition order entered by Earhart does not meet the statutory requirements for the entry of an order and is not supported by sufficient evidence and testimony. Patel also argues he did not receive notice there would be a demolition order issued as required by three Indiana codes.
Upon review of minutes from the June 22 code enforcement hearing, Patel and his counsel state it appears the demolition order was based on Patel’s alleged lack of communication with the defendants and property repairs not yet being complete. The minutes state Code Enforcement Inspector Dana Hewitt told Earhart there’s been no communication with the property owner.
Patel argues that he has been in constant communication with Hewitt along with his engineer and claim adjuster.
In his case, Patel is asking the court to review the defendants’ determination at the June hearing. Demolition would “substantially and irreparably impair and damage” Patel’s ability to repair Economy Inn. Court documents also argue that the injury Patel would suffer if the property were demolished “substantially outweighs the city’s interest in immediately demolishing the property.”
Aside from the demolition order being reviewed, Patel is requesting the court determine the demolition order as invalid. He also requested the court enter preliminary and permanent injunctions forbidding the defendants from demolishing Economy Inn.
He has also made a motion for an expedited hearing in order to prevent the defendants from moving forward with plans to demolish the property.