DOT project forces longtime veterinarian to close office

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 3, 2013 

Note: Dr. Jim Thorsen is in critical condition in a Columbus hospital after emergency surgery on Sunday, according to his family.

When Dr. Jim Thorsen started his veterinary practice 25 years ago, there was little around him on north Veterans Parkway.

"There was nothing out here but me and a bar," said Thorsen, 56. "I bought it thinking what the neighborhood would be like when I was 65 or 70,"

Through the years, Thorsen has built Animal Health Center at 7870 Veterans Parkway into a thriving business on the north end of town. Restaurants, an emergency care clinic and stores have grown up around him.

Thorsen's clinic and the 1.55 acres it sits on are no longer his.

The Georgia Department of Transportation, through eminent domain, condemned the property in September. The state plans to use it for a water retention pond for the Veterans Parkway widening project.

The state paid Thorsen $910,000 for the building and land, according to Muscogee County Superior Court records.

That amount is not enough for him to relocate and keep his practice open, Thorsen said.

He will close the center Nov. 30 and plans to look for a job as a veterinarian.

"They put me out of business," Thorsen said.

The DOT has already taken title to Thorsen's property and deposited the money with the court, said Georgetown, Ga., attorney Susan G. McCathran. who represents the state. The property value was determined by an appraiser. Thorsen can access the funds while he sues the state for damages.

Thorsen's attorney Philip Johnson said the $910,000 is not sufficient, and his client will seek damages from the state for the loss of the business.

Thorsen's clinic is in a 5,400-square-foot facility that he helped design to fit the needs of his business. Thorsen does a lot of dog and cat boarding and has a large fenced-in space beside the office that allows the animals room to roam. The clinic employs 12 to 14 people, Thorsen said.

Thorsen looked at options to keep the clinic open, including relocating to a smaller parcel across the road next to the Walgreens pharmacy. But he determined it would cost too much to purchase and build.

"If Jim had moved that business it would probably generate the same amount of income, but he would have been about $1 million in debt," Johnson said.

The saga started in February of last year, when a DOT representative approached Thorsen about acquiring right of way for the road project.

"They told me they needed a half acre," Thorsen aid. "They told me they didn't need the parking lot or the building."

For a year, Thorsen operated on that premise. It all changed in February of this year when a DOT official told Thorsen that the state needed the entire parcel. And they originally gave him an October deadline.

Thorsen did not find out until June how much the DOT would pay.

One of Thorsen's issues was the DOT did not give him enough time to relocate his business.

"If I was closed for six to nine months, the majority of my clients would go to somebody else," he said. "That would basically put me out of business."

The situation has been difficult on Thorsen, he said.

"Since February of this year, it has been tough," Thorsen said. "Before that, it was just a nuisance. … It just seem to me this process isn't set up with the business owner in mind."

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