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Local News

October 24, 2013

Judge: No jurisdiction in Edison Square lawsuit

PORT ARTHUR — Efforts to halt construction of a subsidized housing development in Port Arthur were delayed Thursday when 122nd District Court Judge Donald Floyd ruled his court had no jurisdiction to decide the matter.

At least not right now.

Plaintiffs for the lawsuit brought against the city of Port Arthur would first have to exhaust all avenues at the city level before returning to District Court, Floyd ruled.

If the plaintiffs opt to return to District Court and try again, they will need to have gone through the appeal process with the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, as prescribed by Texas statutes, Scott Bounds, an attorney representing the city, said.

The four residents who filed the lawsuit earlier this month had hoped to obtain a temporary injunction to stop construction of Edison Square, a proposed $10 million, 128-unit affordable housing development for the elderly.

“As the judge said, we will have the opportunity to replead, and we will,” Langston Adams, attorney for the plaintiffs, said. “Our position is that a zoning board would not be appropriate to hear this type of case.”

The project’s developers, The Itex Group, have filed for housing tax credits with the Texas Department of Community Affairs Multifamily Finance Division.

Without a restraining order, the developers will be free to get the tax credits, Adams said.

Plans are for the development to be constructed at 3501 12th St., the site of the old Edison Middle School. Because the property is still owned by the school district, a zoning change was required from the city to allow for multiple family dwellings.

That change, which was approved in a split 5-3 vote B City Council on July 9, is at the heart of the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs argue City Council allowed residents living within 200 feet of the proposed site to submit their opinions about the proposed site after public hearings were over.

At the time, City Attorney Val Tizeno said the city had no process in place to establish a cut-off date for signatures for or against a proposed zoning ordinance.

Without one, Tizeno said the Council could decide to accept the new signatures and stay within the law, though she advised against doing so.

Tizeno warned that at least three of the new signatures came with conditions such as age and residency requirements — none of which the city could regulate.

Tizeno said the Texas Municipal League had advised the city to stay with the original signatures since the conditional language could open the city up to future litigation.

The city hired the firm of Olson & Olson this week because Tizeno had been subpoenaed to testify as a witness, resulting in her inability to represent the city.

“I am very, very saddened,” plaintiff Reginald Trainer said. “Today is like a step back day because we have worked so hard to be heard, and not to first be heard by City Council, and now the District Court, is disheartening. We are going to keep on appealing it. It’s not over yet.”

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: skooncePANews

 

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