Nudist resort’s lawsuit against county officials goes to court

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For two full days on January 20 and 21, attorneys pored over documents to determine whether local firefighters were justified in issuing stop work orders for upcoming structures at the Paradise Valley Resort Club, located in eastern Dawson County.

Representatives of the optional or nudist resort went to court after suing Fire Marshal and Division Chief Jeff Bailey, Fire Chief and EMA Director Danny Thompson and Prevention Lt. Chris Archer fires. A decision has not yet been made in the case.

Paradise Valley has sought a writ of mandamus to lift stop work orders on a hospitality room and additions to the hospitality center, wine bar, cabanas, indoor pool and fitness center. Jeff Wasserman owns the station.

The plaintiff is also seeking approximately $50,000 for attorney fees and costs dating back to October 2018, attorney Joseph Homans said.

Paul Frickey of Jarrard and Davis, the current Dawson County government law firm, represented the three defendants.

The resort that became Paradise Valley began as a nudist campground in the late 1970s. Now it’s a gated community spanning over 100 acres, filled with annual RV sites, condominiums for long term leases, houses, apartments, swimming pools, bars and various areas for group meetings.

Wasserman started working at the station in 2006 before buying it three years later. On October 27, 2016, he appeared before the Board of Commissioners and requested an update to the master plan rezoning for an indoor pool and fitness center, a wine bar and more land for camping. -cars and tents. More than 200 people showed up for this meeting.

Senior Superior Court Judge Richard Winegarden was assigned to the case on Wednesday, after Judge Bonnie Oliver was unable to hear him. As a senior judge, Winegarden hears cases in the superior courts of the state of Georgia. He will make the final decision in the case, rather than a jury, and serve as the investigator of the case.

Code requirements

Stop work orders are in place for the hospitality room, visitor center, wine bar, cabanas and indoor pool due to lack of life safety plans, chief testifies Bailey during the two-day hearing.

The fire marshal acts under the authority of several codes, such as the Dawson County Ordinance and the 2018 International Building and Fire Codes with amendments adopted by the state. At least one month before construction begins, an owner or agent is required to submit commercial and fire safety plans to the fire marshal for approval.

Two sets of plans should be submitted, with the planning and development having one set and the other then returned to the applicant to be kept at the construction site at all times for review.

Firefighters perform 80% and 100% inspections on upcoming construction sites before issuing occupancy certificates.

Reviewing construction plans in advance, Bailey said, allows her and her colleagues to interact with local architects or engineers on a project. Having plans also allows them to ensure that measures such as fire alarms or handicapped accessible features will be present in a proposed building.

This saves them from having to tell an applicant during the inspection that a building was not properly designed or constructed, so that the structure then has to be retrofitted or partially demolished to check the safety aspects, which which is more difficult than installing them earlier.

Persons who build without approval or contrary to approved plans from which an appeal has not been appealed violate the county ordinance and are subject to the issuance of a stop work order.

Chronology

Bailey became fire marshal in late August 2018. About two months later, he and others were anonymously notified of the Paradise Valley clubhouse after deviating from the commercial construction process. He saw other potentially problematic structures during his visit for this violation, and he was unable to see the required stamped construction drawings.

As Wasserman’s lawyer, Homans objected to mentioning an anonymous tip as hearsay, while Frickey argued that it depended on Bailey’s state of mind as to why he was. had gone to the complex. If a potential life safety violation comes to the fire marshal’s attention, Bailey said he’s obligated to check it out.

Judge Winegarden asked Bailey why he considered the clubhouse to be commercial in nature.

“Any reasonable person would assume that [to be] for someone to live in or be out of… none of these can properly be considered residential structures by any definition,” Bailey said.

Homans argued that the structures targeted by the stop-work orders in the lawsuit were issued based on residential guidelines. Permits for the visitor center and hospitality room, indoor pool, cabanas and wine bar were issued between fall 2016 and spring 2018.

Wasserman testified that he or people he hired tended to hand-draw plans with basic dimensions and markings to accompany permits. He said he was never asked to submit a set of separate plans for what he considered residential structures. He always understood that site plans were passed from planning to fire departments.

A letter from Planning dated December 18, 2018 extended Wasserman’s building permits for two years, until that date in 2020. Buildings are still expected to meet all applicable codes until completion.

On February 5, 2019, stop work orders were issued due to failures in the Visitor Center fire wall; lack of detail on the type of occupancy and the load of the reception room to determine the characteristics of life safety; and the lack of comprehensive plans for the wine bar and indoor pool/fitness center.

While the firewall was approved two weeks later, Bailey said there were no plans for it and asked for plans for the hospitality room, wine bar and indoor pool.

Wasserman testified that it can be “very difficult” to label the uses of buildings in Paradise Valley and later added that the buildings represent different levels of assembly, while behind a closed door, similar to how other subdivisions would have amenities.

Bailey clarified that amenities in housing estates are still subject to fire and life safety rules.

Although there was some confusion that the reception hall was a nightclub, Wasserman said that was not the case and was later able to ask a fire alarm company to submit a map.

Later in February, cabins or community halls received a stop work order. In March, Bailey met with an engineer hired by Wasserman to discuss life safety plans for this structure. Plans for the cabins were submitted, but Bailey did not review them.

Prior to the summer, Wasserman attempted to administratively appeal stop work orders while continuing to meet with local leaders. The county argued appeals can only be processed for building codes, not the fire code.

In early June 2019, Wasserman again met with county officials to go over what was needed for the new permits. The cabanas and indoor pool were split into two separate permits, as the combined structure was split so each area would be less than 5,000 square feet, with pedestrian bridges connecting them. A second engineer submitted life safety drawings for these structures.

Bailey signed the permits in recognition, not approval. Permits issued required life safety plans, he said.

Subsequently, the orientation of the huts was modified but kept the same dimensions. Originally, the pool was to be in the middle of a larger structure, but it was moved to the far right side of the fitness center.

Wasserman still referred to the old permit for the indoor pool design and said it was not revoked while maintaining that the new permit was for the building above.

Sarah Martin, the station manager, testified that she tried several times over the next year to find an architect who would redesign the buildings already underway. However, she couldn’t find anyone before the 80% inspection timeframe.

At the end of August 2020, the cabanas were almost built, while a foundation was laid for the swimming pool. The stop work order on the wine bar was still in effect.

Since Bailey said he had no idea what he and Lt. Archer would be inspecting on August 26, 2020, they brought blank orders with them to Paradise Valley. Wasserman could not provide them with plans for the hospitality room, visitor center, cabanas, or wine bar.

They couldn’t inspect without building plans. The following week, Archer issued stop work orders citing the violated code on the notices.

Right now, the reception center still needs drywall and flooring, and the wine bar also needs walls and flooring. The hospitality room just needs an interior floor, while the majority of work remains to be done on the swimming pool and fitness center.

Wasserman estimated that Paradise Valley has spent more than $1.687 million on new buildings so far.

In Bailey’s opinion, building permits had not been properly issued to Paradise Valley, given the lack of construction plans or life safety beyond the basic drawings.

The judge asked how often it is that sufficient plans are not available for buildings.

“This is the only case in which I have been directly involved…[out of] thousands,” Bailey said.

Homans argued that good faith efforts were made on Paradise Valley’s part, despite government officials’ oversight of building permits. He explained that the station had invested a lot of money in these new buildings and that oversimplifying his client’s case “was not fair”.

Frickey opposed the grandfathering plaintiff’s offer, saying giving the station a pass now would mean giving them leniency in the future. He reaffirmed the duties of fire service officials to ensure buildings can be safely occupied.

Monday afternoon, no decision had been announced in this civil case.

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