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Eminent domain best choice for Jubilee Park?


Dallas Morning News Editorial- Eminent domain has four-letter-word status in southern Dallas. Bitterness lingers over the city's use of condemnation authority in 1969 to seize dozens of acres outside Fair Park. Houses were bulldozed and families displaced – all for a parking lot that largely sits empty for 11 months of the year.

That's why empowered agencies, including the Dallas ISD, must exhaust every alternative before invoking eminent domain.

Just north of that empty parking lot, Jubilee Park residents are bracing for a new round of seizures as DISD acquires land to replace the 101-year-old O.M. Roberts Elementary. Students at this exemplary school deserve top-quality, spacious facilities, and this newspaper supported the 2008 bond package to make that happen.

The law clearly allows DISD to seize land, even if it means uprooting families, displacing businesses and destroying years of volunteer work to turn a dilapidated neighborhood into a cohesive community. But is this really the best approach?

Several years ago, businessman Walt Humann and oil magnate T. Boone Pickens sparked the launch of an ambitious project in Jubilee, then a crime- and drug-riddled mess. Pickens pumped in around $6 million to spruce up the area and build a new neighborhood recreation center. Crime has plummeted. Education has improved. Neighbors have come together and begun working toward a common goal of taking back their streets.

"We have spent a lot of time, energy and effort to gain the confidence of the community," says Tom Harbison, chairman of the Jubilee Park & Community Center organization. He and others fear this progress could quickly be reversed and another indelible scar inflicted if eminent domain proceeds.

Harbison's group has purchased numerous empty lots with plans to build affordable housing, including an apartment complex for up to 25 seniors. With all this land, Harbison says, maybe there's a better way to get DISD what it needs while posing as little disruption as possible for residents.

Harbison's group has tried to meet with DISD officials to discuss possible alternatives, but so far they've been stonewalled. Trustee Bernadette Nutall and other elected officials have agreed to a neighborhood meeting next week, though their negotiating authority seems limited.

Texas law requires DISD to pay adequate compensation for the property it seizes. So far, its payment offers have included some so low that they won't even cover what some residents owe on their mortgages. That means Jubilee residents could wind up having to continue paying for their homes long after they've been bulldozed.

If DISD truly has exhausted all alternatives, it owes a full explanation to Jubilee Park's residents. If other options are still open, then residents deserve to be part of the discussion. Either way, the time to talk is now, not after the bulldozers have wiped out homes and destroyed goodwill.


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