PORT ARTHUR —
Plans to build a housing development for Port Arthur’s elderly may be stopped if a group of neighbors in the proposed 12th Street area have their way.
A temporary restraining order was issued Thursday to stop the city from allowing a zoning change that would permit construction of the 128-unit Edison Square complex on a 15-acre tract where the old Edison Middle School once stood.
The temporary order is effective for up to 14 days, enough time for the 122nd District Court Judge Donald Floyd to decide whether to issue a more binding temporary injunction.
Floyd is expected to hear the temporary injunction case at 2 p.m. Oct. 24.
If the plaintiffs are successful in obtaining a temporary injunction, it would be in force through the duration of the court case.
Plaintiffs hope to stop the project before the first shovel of dirt is turned.
Quite simply, the residents don’t want the housing development in their neighborhood, Langston Adams, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Friday in a telephone conversation.
“The heart of the lawsuit is the City Council members who voted for it ignored their own attorney and more importantly ignored the wishes of the very people who they should be serving,” Adams said.
Reginald Trainer, one of the suit’s four plaintiffs, said the city has not been upfront about the project since day one.
More so than the actual buildings, the plaintiffs are concerned about the type tenants that would move into the facility, Trainer said.
Though plans call for the development to serve elderly tenants, Trainer said there are not enough elderly Port Arthur people to fill the housing development.
Too many vacancies would result in a likelihood that the townhouse-style homes would be filled with people from other cities. If that scenario occurred, Trainer said he worried the number of low income people would increase in a city where there are already too many poor people with too few job opportunities, Trainer said.
“The city does not have enough elderly folk to occupy that complex,” Trainer said. “We don’t have that many seniors who are homeless, most are in the nursing home, or they own their own property.”
Distinct 6 City Councilman Robert “Bob” Williamson disagreed, citing numerous studies various developers had introduced. All, he said, predicted an increasing future elderly population.
“The trend is we will have more elderly, not fewer. We will have a need for this type of housing,” Williamson said in a telephone conversation Friday.
If the studies hold true, Williamson said older residents who wanted to downsize from their existing homes would be forced to look elsewhere, to leave a city that many have lived most of their lives.
“That is the whole idea of putting this complex in, so they will have a place to move here and not have to move to housing in other cities. So far we have been able to prevent that from happening,” Williamson said.
As far as age, the developer is mandated by the state to not accept tenants younger than 62, Williamson said.
The plaintiffs also take issue with the way a vote to allow a zoning change from family residential to multiple family residential occurred.
Before a zoning change is made, city ordinance requires neighbors living within a 200-foot radius be consulted. Those neighbors’ opinions are to be considered before the city’s planning and zoning department makes a recommendation to City Council, who will ultimately decide whether to grant the request.
Public hearings are scheduled to allow citizens the right to voice concerns, or to speak in favor of proposed changes. The residents also have an opportunity to submit their opinions in writing with a signature.
Before the public hearing closed, more than 20 percent of the neighbors living within the 200-foot radius had voiced opposition. That number would have required a super-majority vote among City Council for approval of the zoning change.
Instead, at a subsequent meeting, after the measure was tabled a month earlier from a previous City Commission meeting, new signatures in favor of the project were allowed.
Because of the additional signatures, the requirement for a super-majority vote became moot, and the measure passed by a 5-3 vote.
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 Council could decide to accept 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.
Since then, City Council has implemented a deadline for accepting signatures for or against zoning changes.
Efrain Avendano, another of the four plaintiffs, said at this point it did not matter who moved into the development, he doesn’t want it.
“The way they went about it, we just don’t want it,” Avendano said. “I feel like we were mistreated from the beginning, once you lose trust, you just lose trust.”
Tizeno said the city had not yet had opportunity to thoroughly review the court documents.
“We just got just got served this morning and we are examining it, have not had opportunity to talk with City Council,” Tizeno said.