Edison Square case now moot city attorney says

Published 5:00 pm Friday, August 28, 2015


After hearing opening statements in civil case to stop construction of a Port Arthur housing complex for the elderly, 172nd District Court Judge Donald Floyd said he would take five to 10 days to make a decision.

On Friday afternoon Floyd heard arguments from Langston Adams, the attorney representing Port Arthur residents Reginald Trainer, Efrain Avendano, Paul Hulin and Herman Leginston.

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John Hightower, with Olsen and Olsen, represented the city of Port Arthur, the defendant in the case.

Friday’s case was the second in two years to determine whether the city had overreached its authority in issuing a zoning change that would allow developer The Itex Company to build 128 townhouse style apartments at a 15-acre site at 3501 12th St., where the old Edison school once stood.

The Edison Square project has become politically charged with a lot of emotion, Hightower said in his opening statements.

Plaintiffs in the case say they worry about their neighborhood, about whether the proposed complex for the elderly will stay that way, or whether people of all ages will end up living there.

Just as attorney Scott Bounds, with Olsen and Olsen, argued two years ago that the district court had no jurisdiction in the case, Hightower did the same Friday.

This time around, however, Hightower said the court had no jurisdiction in the case because the developer had change course and decided to build duplexes rather than the townhouses.

Duplexes fall within the existing two family zoning designation, making the matter moot, Hightower said.

Adams argued because of the number of duplexes planned, about 78, the project would have to be considered planned development rather than two-family.

The project first came to the attention of Port Arthur City Council in July 2013 when the owner of the property, Port Arthur Independent School District, requested a zoning change from two family residential to multiple family residential to allow construction of the 128 town house style units.

At the time, more than 26 percent of residents residing within 200 feet of the proposed building site opposed the project.

That number was later reduced after some of those expressing objections said they would not oppose the project as long as certain conditions were met, such as only elderly people being allowed to live there.

In July 2013, a 5-3 City Council vote allowed for construction of the 128-unit Edison Square to move forward. At the time a supermajority vote was no longer needed because of those residents initially opposing the building who had changed their minds.

In October 2013, a temporary restraining order was issued by Judge Floyd to stop the city from allowing a zoning change. Floyd subsequently ruled his court did not have jurisdiction in the case because the plaintiffs had not exhausted the appeals process at the local municipal level.

The city permitted the project in November 2014, and construction started on the revamped 78-duplex unit design about three months ago.

On Friday, Adams said the plaintiffs had followed the Judge Floyd’s original orders to a tee by appealing the zoning designation to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals board, which voted to overturn the City Council’s prior vote to allow the zoning change.

“The problem is the argument he is making he is talking from both sides of his mouth, Hughes said.

Because the city did not appeal the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s decision, they had ratified it, and now could not come back and claim the court had not jurisdiction.

“This is never about senior citizens. It’s always been about the developer making money at the expense of people,” Adams said Friday.

Hightower said he was not surprised the judge would take some time to decide.

“I still think this is moot because the project changed, the developer changed plans to what was the existing zoning designation,”

E-mail: sherry.koonce@panews.com

Twitter: skooncePANews