Eminent domain process begins for property destroyed in 2019 fire

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The city of Denison has started the process of acquiring property that was destroyed during a fire in 2019. The city council approved the first step in utilizing eminent domain to obtain ownership of the land during a meeting Monday night.

Like the legendary phoenix, a downtown Denison property may soon rise from the ashes, only under city ownership.  Denison has declared it a public necessity to acquire land at 321 W. Main St., effectively starting the process for the city to acquire the land through eminent domain.

The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance Monday night.

The property at 321 W. Main was one of three buildings destroyed in a massive fire in October of 2019. The blaze, which originated in a nail salon, spread to two neighboring buildings and caused minor damage to numerous other structures downtown.

"As you are aware, the city does have the authority under state law and under the city charter to exercise this power of domain when it is for a public purpose," City Attorney Julie Fort said.

Details on what the city could put at the site are sparse at this time, as the city does not want to move forward until ownership is finalized, Fort said. However, in city documents, Denison officials listed possible uses including city offices, public works storage and public restrooms.

Following the blaze, the city investigated the location as a possible site for municipal facilities and determined that this site fits the city's needs. 

Currently, the land remains vacant. The Grayson County Central Appraisal District's website currently values the property at $18,000. The property was valued at $122,518 prior to the blaze.

It is still difficult to put a cost to the Oct. 9, 2019 downtown Denison fire.

The city will now move forward with making an offer for the property, which the owner will need to decide upon within 30 days. If an agreement cannot be made, a final offer based upon the assessed value will be made. If this is not accepted, the fate of the site may ultimately be determined by the courts, Fort said.

Calls to the owners of the property for comment were not immediately returned.

The city's resolution marks one of the first signs of redevelopment at the site of the fire. Wendy Acosta, who owns the property at 319 W. Main said she still has plans to rebuild, but has been focusing her energy over the past year in relocating the Desk and Easel, a shared work space business that was dislocated by the fire.

We've been really busy getting our property set up at our new location at 500 West Woodard," she said. "So, we are just now able to turn our attention back to 319 (Main Street)."

Acosta still has plans to redevelop the site and bring life to the empty lot. She would like to return it to its past as a commercial site and include rooftop entertainment space where visitors can get a view of the downtown streetscape.

However, she noted that she does not intend to move the Desk and Easel back to the site.

Attempts to reach out to the owners of Luxor Nails, the third property that was destroyed, were unsuccessful.

A ladder truck works to contain the fire in the 300 block of W. Main Street in Denison on Oct. 9, 2019.