After my recent survey found dentists more likely to own than rent their dental practice facilities, we started discussing dentists and commercial real estate. While I advised that a dental lease is often preferable, some dentists touted the benefits of ownership.
Well, here’s a horror story to make any dentist think twice about purchasing a building!
The short version is that a couple in Petaluma, California (he’s an endodontist, she’s an orthodontist) bought a building for their practice. After two years and half a million dollars, the dentists are still no closer to moving in — all thanks to some less-than-gracious neighbors determined to stop the project.
The property itself is a fairly unremarkable medical building that has been vacant for several years, located on a quiet block with several other doctors’ offices. The big controversy is that the new owners want to build a second story, which would bring the total square footage from just over 3,000 to just under 7,000.
The dentists hired an architect to draw up plans. They applied for all relevant permits. They were confident they would be approved, since Petaluma’s General Plan calls for infill of existing vacant structures and discourages “urban sprawl.”
The city approved their plans. Neighbors raised objections over the height of the building, traffic patterns, and sewage issues. Though the original plan was up to code, the dentists made some changes to appease the neighbors’ concerns. The plan was approved a second time.
So what happened next? Some neighbors formed a coalition, hired an attorney, and filed suit to stop the project on the grounds that an adequate environmental review had not been conducted and that it did not fit with the city’s General Plan. (Did I mention that Petaluma is an upscale town with wealthy residents?)
Except… the building does fit with the city’s General Plan. And, since it will stay under 10,000 square feet, state law does not require further environmental review.
And that’s just what the dentists will point out at the trial, now scheduled for January 2010.
Calling the whole thing a “nightmare,” the endodontist says he would never have bought the building had he known what he was getting into.
Two years and $500,000 down the drain… with nothing to show for it but a thick stack of paperwork.