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Supreme Court's recent eminent domain ruling stirs up memories of 1997 Hurst case

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Supreme Court's recent eminent domain ruling stirs up memories of 1997 Hurst case

Hurst, TX –

Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Nearly ten years ago, developers of Northeast Mall in Hurst said the mall needed to grow. New retail outlets, like Grapevine Mills, threatened to steal customers and vital sales tax revenues for the city of Hurst.

Jeff Jones, Hurst Assistant City Manager: That project was either going to redevelop at that time, or chances are good they would have gone somewhere else.

Zeeble: Hurst Assistant City Manager Jeff Jones says a move would have been devastating for the city of less than 50,000. The mall was the biggest taxpayer. Mall developer Simon deBartolo's corporation bought most homes in a small community to expand, but ten holdouts either didn't want to move, or wanted more money. So Hurst condemned the property for the mall's growth.

Jeff Mollenburg, former Hurst homeowner: This used to be my home.

Zeeble: Eight years ago, the land where this Office Max, an Old Navy store, a Starbucks, Pet Smart and others now stand, was Richland Park East. 127 well maintained, middle class homes made up the neighborhood.

Mollenburg: Neighbors to the left of where we are, they moved to Burleson. The neighbors across the street - she recently passed away but he lives toward Bedford. The other to the right lives toward Bedford and on the other side she's over near Haltom City.

Zeeble: Jeff Mollenburg and his family moved miles away to Haslet. Like the other "holdouts," some of whom owned paid-off homes they'd lived in for decades, he didn't want to move. The city's condemnation process offered him more than so-called fair market value.

Mollenburg: Fair market value is what a willing buyer and seller are both willing to pay and if you can't get between there, then it's not fair market value, whatever it is.

Glenn Sodd, Hurst attorney: I want to get my clients in the position where they can negotiate with the end user and negotiate a price just like any homeowner could do if someone knocked on the door and said, "I'd like to buy your home."

Zeeble: Glenn Sodd represented the Hurst holdouts and eventually won a $3 million settlement versus the $1 million the city initially offered. These days, Sodd's the attorney for property owners whose land sits where the Cowboys will build a new stadium in Arlington. He expects to make similar arguments: taking homes benefits the Cowboys, a private business, not the public. So it's an abuse of eminent domain.

Sodd: In America, if you take my car without my permission, you're a thief and you get arrested and go to jail. Now, if you take my home without my permission, you're not a thief at all; rather, you're sanctioned by city council. All you have to do is get the city to vote.

Zeeble: Sodd believes the Supreme Court got it wrong, substituting public benefit for the phrase public use. As a result, he says anyone's home could be condemned and replaced by some business because it could pay higher taxes that benefit the public. That's why state legislators are now working on a measure that would prohibit taking of private property for private, economic development. But assistant city manager Jeff Jones says Northeast Mall's expansion, tied to the property condemnations, benefited nearly everyone in Hurst.

Jones: Had the project not happened, we would be in serious financial trouble, and couldn't provide services we offer today.

Zeeble: Jones says those include two aquatic centers where most towns have none, well-paid and fully trained firefighters and emergency medical workers, and lower property taxes. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.


Email Bill Zeeble about this story.