10/10/2005

City Threatens to Take Private Property Using ‘Eminent Domain’ Law: WOAI News 4 (San Antonio TX), 9/29/05

By Jeff Coyle,

The owner of an east side communications company says the city of San Antonio threatened to take away his property and give it to a religious nonprofit group. Concerned that the city is violating Texas’ new eminent domain law, he contact the News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters to investigate.

"I came here ten years ago,” Tommy Moore says, standing on his property on N. Mesquite St. “That building was vacant; it had graffiti all over it. This (lot) was all covered up with vines and everything."

Moore takes risks where most businessmen won't. He's opened a printing company on Hackberry St. and bought up nearby office space—all in a neighborhood that has been labeled "blighted" for more than 25 years.

His reward for being a productive tax-paying citizen, he says, is the city trying to take this parking lot away from him.

The San Antonio Development Agency (SADA) wrote Moore last month, saying "it is necessary for the agency to acquire your property," adding that if he doesn't accept the offer, "the Agency may exercise its legal authority to acquire the property through its power of eminent domain."

The land would be given to some members of the St. Paul Methodist Church who formed a community development corporation with plans of building a senior home next door to Moore’s lot. They want Moore's property for parking. Because the project meets the city's goal of revitalizing the area, the city is helping the group acquire the land.

"Taxpayer money,” laments Moore. “That's my money. I should not have my money fighting against me for my livelihood. I don't think that's the American way."

But Ernest Haffner, SADA’s project manager who wrote the letter to Moore, says the case is a big misunderstanding. Haffner says Moore has refused to negotiate with the city.

"We would like the opportunity to sit with him and see what his counter offer is and see if we can reach a compromise," Haffner says.

"But this letter,” replied News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jeff Coyle, “doesn't make it sound like a compromise is even in the cards. It says if you don't accept it within 30 days we're going to take your land through eminent domain."

"Unfortunately, that's not the intent of the letter," responds Haffner. "The intent is to make an offer."

SADA’s offer, $11,500, is barely half the $22,600 value on the county tax roll. But Haffner insists Moore does not have to sell.

"It's not intended as a threat,” says Haffner. “It's just a way to advise people that yes, the agency has this (eminent domain power), but we do negotiate."

"The letter is not saying we have this power, just to let you know that,” says Coyle. “The letter is saying 30 days, give us an answer within 30 days or we'll use that power."

"It's unfortunate that that clause is in there,” says Haffner. “We are working to change that clause to make it more friendly."

Texas' new eminent domain law allows cities to condemn land if it eliminates a slum or blighted area. But Haffner says it's not worth the legal battle to pursue eminent domain in Moore’s case. The St. Paul Development Corporation plans to build its senior home without Moore’s lot for parking and considers the case closed.


WOAI: www.woai.com