City Responds To Historical Society Director’s Letter Regarding Bella Vino

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Athens City Law Director Pat Lang says his office will defend the actions of the city in the Bella Vino decision.

Lang responded to a letter written today by Athens County Historical Society Director Ron Luce threatening legal action against the city after the planning commission voted to allow the destruction of the historical building on Stimson Avenue.

Luce says the planned apartment complex that will be constructed at the location does not meet city zoning code.

Lang responded by saying, "I hope you can appreciate that, given the threatened litigation stance you have chosen to pursue in this matter, I must be measured in my response."

"I am sympathetic to your obvious heartfelt opposition to the proposed project, and am similarly sympathetic to the fact that there is no legal remedy at your disposal to prevent such a project on the grounds of historical preservation," says Lang. "Thus, you are in the unenviable position of having to find other reasons upon which to base your protest of the Planning Commission's decision."

Lang goes on to say that his duty as law director requires him to defend the actions of city officials whether their actions were in accordance with his office's legal advice or not.

"Given your litigation threat, I will refrain from expounding upon all of the legal details here, but suffice it to say that, from a legal standpoint, this is not even a close call," says Lang.


The director of the Athens County Historical Society is threatening to file a citizens' lawsuit against the city of Athens over Bella Vino.

Last week, the Athens City Planning Commission voted to allow the destruction of the historical building which currently houses a specialty wine and beer store, so an Athens businessman can put an apartment complex on the site.

Historical Society Director Ron Luce sent a letter to City Law Director Pat Lang and Assistant Law Director Lisa Eliason today saying the apartment complex does not meet city zoning code.

In the letter, Luce says, "Athens City Chief Prosecutor Lisa Eliason was clear at the Athens City Planning Commission hearing held January 11, 2012, that parking on the first floor of a building which was required to be provided by a landlord for apartments on a second floor and above did not fall within the definition of a business."

Luce says the building, located at 22 West Stimson Avenue, is the last remaining structure of a once-thriving Athens brick company.

"The City Planning Commission made a grievous error in approving Ric Wasserman's proposal to destroy an historical property," says Luce.

"I appeal to you both as legal guardians of our rights and laws and as members of our community to right this wrong that has been perpetrated upon us.  If I can't count on you, I have no choice but to move forward with a citizens' suit.".

He asks for Lang and Eliason to send a formal response to him in writing within two weeks.

Lang says he can't comment on the letter since there is litigation being threatened against the city.

"We're going to defend the city," says Lang.

Luce says in the letter that Pat Lang has accepted campaign funds from Wasserman and may need to recuse himself.

Lang says he has not accepted money for Wasserman in the recent past and he's not sure if he's ever accepted money from Wasserman in a political campaign.