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DISD drops efforts to seize 4 Jubilee Park homes for expanded Roberts Elementary campus


By NANCY VISSER / The Dallas Morning News


Four families in Jubilee Park learned this week that Dallas ISD is dropping efforts to seize their homes for an expanded campus for O.M. Roberts Elementary School, their attorney said.

Four other homeowners, however, are still in a fight to save their property, said Mark Mathie of McKool Smith.

It's a bittersweet victory for the four families who learned their homes will be spared. DISD had purchased much of the property it needed before the holdouts spurred the district to re-evaluate its plans. And now they fear the few remaining homes will be surrounded by paved parking lots.


Values in question

If that's the case, the families may seek recourse from the school district because the value of their houses could be destroyed, Mathie said.

"I'm going to wait until we hear more specifically what the plans are before we make that decision," he said. "It would be robbing them of the enjoyment of their homes, if not the value of their property."

DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander declined to provide details about how that land might be used.

"We are still in the process of negotiating for various properties in the Jubilee Park neighborhood. As the majority of the property owners have legal representation, it would be inappropriate to comment further," he said in an e-mail.

DISD trustee Bernadette Nutall said she also has requested an update from administrators. She had suggested that the lots could be turned into a park for the neighborhood. "I don't know the plans," she said, "but we won't make it fragmented."

She said she would like the residents to be involved in the planning.

Mathie said the four homes that were spared are those owned by the Del Rio, Lopez and Lozano families and by Revis Loftis and his siblings, who inherited property from their mother.

He said mediation will continue for four other property owners who either signed contracts or entered an agreement with DISD early on. Mathie said those families speak only Spanish and felt pressured into giving up their homes.

"They have spared four houses, the four that did not want to sell and were not under contract. The others that I represent, that's still up in the air. I don't know where the others are going to go because some of them had signed some form of contract."

DISD originally wanted land from the Vickery Wholesale Greenhouse and a couple of dozen homes to erect a school building on a larger campus in the neighborhood. The plan was to build a new school and then tear down the 101-year-old building, which could not meet the needs of students and faculty despite recent upgrades.

But the greenhouse owner and at least eight homeowners fought efforts to seize their property. They said the amount of money offered was not enough to pay for comparable homes in neighborhoods where they would feel comfortable. Vickery owner Pat Berry said he would have to close his business.

After a series of protests, at least two community meetings and the intervention of Nutall, the district changed plans.

Berry was told last month that his business was spared. Nutall has said the district will temporarily move the students to other schools and will rebuild after the old building is torn down.

On Monday, four homeowners received notice that DISD was no longer going after their property.

"This letter is sent to you, as a matter of courtesy, to inform you that the district will not be pursuing the acquisition of your property at this time. Any pending court actions will be dismissed by us. We thank you for your courtesy and interest," read the letter to Rolando Lozano, who lives on Philip Avenue.

The crusaders

Lozano's daughter, Norma Hernandez, was one of the Jubilee Park residents leading the fight against DISD.

"We're slowly getting our neighborhood back," Hernandez said. "We are winning the fight against eminent domain, but we still have a lot to do to preserve our neighborhood. A neighborhood consists of homes, not parking lots."

She, too, has requested to see new plans for the campus.

Shawn Busari has been fighting to save the house where Loftis, her brother, lives. She credited Mathie and Nutall for the good news this week.

"We think that Bernadette Nutall is due a great deal of thanks for stepping in," Busari said. "She humanized us in this whole process, and for that we're truly grateful. When she said, 'Trust me,' she meant that."

And she thanked Mathie for the pro bono work he's doing on behalf of the residents. "We were victorious. We stood our ground with DISD. People thought we were the craziest folks in the world, but Mark had no doubt [we would win]."

Still, Busari is concerned about what will happen to that corner of Jubilee Park. She intends to continue fighting on behalf of the other holdouts and the residents who will remain.

Read the rest of the story here…

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