The spectacle of the condemnation of homes in Hurst, Texas, for a shopping mall in 2000 seems to have shocked most of the remaining Texas cities into refraining from condemning property for the benefit of private parties. Hurst actually forced families to move out of their homes while one of the spouses in two of the condemned families lay in the hospital dying. Since then, only Dallas has ventured to condemn homes for a private development–in that case, a private arts center with no timeline for being built.
Private Use Condemnations
Leigh Bass owned an historic 97-year-old building near downtown Dallas that her late husband bought for her. She lived in a loft on the top floor of the building, and leased out the rest to several other residents and businesses. Dallas City officials determined that the building stood in the way of the proposed performing arts center in the City’s Arts District, so they condemned the property and forced Ms. Bass and the other residents out. It appears that the proposed center will be privately owned or run, but the facts are a bit murky.636 In fact, Dallas has no plans on the horizon to build the arts center any time soon, and the City’s own property management director admits that it may never get built. The City has not even proposed a financing structure for the arts center, or decided whether to use public or private funds to build it. However, the City wants to own the building now, even though it has no immediate plans either to demolish or restore it.637 It continues to sit vacant.
The City of Hurst agreed to let its largest taxpayer, a real estate company, expand its North East Mall and thus increase the City’s sales and property tax revenues. There happened to be 127 homes in the way, but that wasn’t a problem. The City agreed to condemn the homes if the owners did not sell. Under the threat of eminent domain, almost all of the homeowners sold their property. Ten condemnees refused to sell and took the City to court.638 The Lopez, Duval, Prohs and Laue families had each owned their homes for approximately 30 years. Some of the other families had been there for more than a decade.639 A Texas trial judge refused to stay the condemnations while the suit was ongoing, so the residents lost their homes.640 Leonard Prohs had to move while his wife was in the hospital with brain cancer. She died only five days after their house was demolished. Phyllis Duval’s husband also was in the hospital with cancer at the time they were required to move. He died one month after the demolition. Of the ten couples who challenged the City, three spouses died and four others suffered heart attacks during the dispute and litigation.641 During litigation, the owners discovered evidence that the land surveyor who designed the roads for the mall expansion had been told to change the course of one access road so that it would run through the houses of the eight owners challenging the condemnations.642 However, as litigation does, the case moved slowly, and the exhausted owners finally settled in June 2000. Until the time of settlement, however, they had received no compensation at all for the loss of their homes or disruption to their lives.
The Raney family owns a nine-acre farmstead behind the Rowlett City Hall. Within the next few years, the Bush Turnpike extension will pass by the land, and a light rail station will be built in the immediate vicinity, making the Raney property extremely valuable to potential developers. However, City officials are claiming that they need the land for a park and other future municipal government expansion. The City has told Larry Raney that if he rejects its offer to purchase his land for $370,000, it will force a sale through eminent domain. Raney, however, does not believe that the City wants his land for government purposes. He wonders about the City’s sudden desire to put a large park right in the center of town because the City’s own master plan shows upscale residential development on the site. Raney simply is not interested in selling the family’s property, and vows that he will challenge any attempt by the City to take his land and sell it to other, more favored developers.643
*These numbers were compiled from news sources. Many cases go unreported, and news reports often do not specify the number of properties against which condemnations were filed or threatened.
†Texas Judicial System Annual Report (1998-2002), Texas Office of Court Administration (includes condemnations for traditional public uses).
636 See Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Foundation website, www.dallasperformingarts.org.
637 Selwyn Crawford, “Dallas Begins to Empty Building that It Now Owns; Tenants Forced to Leave 97-Year-Old Structure; Plans Unclear for Property Some Say Is Worth Preserving,” The Dallas Morning News, July 9, 2002, at 13A.
638 “10 Residents Under Siege by Proposal for Big Mall,” The New York Times, May 18, 1997, at A16.
639 Jennifer Packer, “Fighting for Home; Settlement Allows Mall Expansion, to the Sorrow of Residents,” The Dallas Morning News, July 2, 2000, at 1S.
640 “Texas Judge Clears Way for Expansion of Mall,” The New York Times, May 24, 1997, at A9.
641 Eric Felten, “Kiss Your House Good-Bye,” Readers Digest, Mar. 2001.
642 Kendall Anderson, “Hurst Accused of Altering Road Plan; City Denies Changing Course to Allow for Condemnations,” The Dallas Morning News, June 26, 1997, at 1G.
643 Stephen Terry, “City May Force Sale of Land Near Main,” The Dallas Morning News, Oct. 24, 2002, at 6T.