The Denison City Council voted unanimously to place a $81,903 lien against the former Central Ward School property during its meeting Monday. The lien comes after the city demolished the Central Ward building, citing unsafe conditions, following nearly five years of legal battles.
“Unfortunately, that is just a small faction of the dollars that the taxpayers of the city of Denison had to spend on this case, but it is within reason and what is allowed to be assessed,” Denison Mayor Jared Johnson said.
The battle for Central Ward started in 2013 when the city council voted to have the building declared unsafe and ordered its demolition. In the months and years that followed, the case went through the 15th Judicial District Court, the 5th District Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court of Texas along with federal district and appeals courts before being dismissed earlier this year.
In his arguments against the city throughout the course of the case, Colombian-born real estate owner James Roa cited the 14th Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Older Americans Act, among other laws, stating that his right to due process was being violated. He fought the city for years to keep the building in hopes of making it into some sort of community center.
During Monday night’s meeting, Roa spoke out against the placement of the lien, repeating many of the same reasons he gave previously. About 10 people in attendance stood up in support of Roa during the meeting.
“I do not see any reason for a lien to be placed on that property because, first, I did not ask for the demolition,” Roa said.
In addition to not asking for the demolition, Roa stated that the case had never gone before the city’s Historic Preservation Board, which oversees changes and alterations to many buildings within the city’s downtown historic district. Roa also seemed to argue that the city temporarily dissolved the board in order to demolish the structure.
As a century-old building, Roa said the item should have gone before the board prior to any action.
“This property was obviously a historic building more than 100 years old, something that a lot of people love,” he said.
Roa also argued that there was another case against the city as the property was for sale when it was demolished earlier this year.
Lynne Duggan, who attended in support of Roa, said she felt that racial profiling may have been at play in the decision to demolish the property. Additionally, the city did not take into account Roa’s investment in the property when he purchased it in 2012, she said.
“The county buildings around here are falling apart, how come you aren’t charging them,” she said.
In response to Roa’s claims, City Attorney Julie Fort spoke briefly on the multiple steps in the case through each court. She said the city was ultimately supported in its right to demolish the structure, through each court.
“All of the points that Mr. Roa makes are certainly important points should they be true,” Johnson said. “And the courts, multiple courts, through his appeals process have found that they are not.”
In response, Roa said that he and his lawyer were unable to speak when the district court case was dismissed. In the latest rulings, Roa said the case was dismissed due to him being late in filing his documents. This did not invalidate his arguments, he said.
“All this is just superficial talk and falsehood that the attorney is presenting,” he said.
With regard to the discussion about the Historic Preservation Board, Planning & Zoning Manager Steven Doss, who coordinates the board’s meetings, said the former school was not located within any of the city’s protected historic districts. With regard to the dissolution of the board, Doss said the city did dissolve the commission on March 19 as a part of upkeep to the city’s ordinance, but immediately reinstated the board in the same action.
“At no time was the city without a Historic Preservation Board and at no time did it have no members,” he said.