Judge Weighs Dismissal of Hays Street Bridge Suit

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Restoration Group attorney Amy Kastely speaks with members of the group while waiting for a decision from Judge David Canales. Photo by Adrian Ramirez.

Day two in the Hays Street Bridge/803 N. Cherry Street trial ended dramatically Thursday with Judge David Canales delaying a decision on whether to dismiss the suit filed against the City of San Antonio by the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group and Eastside resident Beatrice Valadez.

After plaintiffs rested their case today, City Attorney Deborah Klein requested a directed verdict of dismissal, citing insufficient evidence establishing an agreement to build a park under the Hays Street Bridge on the Cherry Street property. She also argued that a memorandum of understanding, a funding contract from 2002 between the City and the Restoration Group, was not a contract subject to breach.

Attorney Amy Kastely, representing the plaintiffs, requested more time to research relevant city code, so Canales agreed to withhold a ruling until Friday morning.

Amy Kastely, attorney for the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group and Beatrice Valadez. Photo by Adrian Ramirez

Amy Kastely, attorney for the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group and Beatrice Valadez. Photo by Adrian Ramirez

If Wednesday’s session was centered on the members of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, Thursday’s did the same for city staffers, who testified on what has been perceived by the Restoration Group as the City’s violation of the memorandum.

(Read our report on Wednesday’s session here: Hays Street Bridge Trial: Restoration Group Cites ‘Breach of Contract.’)

Nina Nixon-Mendez drafted the memorandum with a member of the city attorney’s office when she was serving as a planning manager for the Department of Planning and Community Development. As a witness, she defined responsibilities outlined for both the City of San Antonio and the Hays Street Restoration Group.

Her testimony concerned the definition of the word “fund” in the memorandum, which she testified did not include in-kind donations.

She said the in-kind donations covered by the memorandum were limited to the Union-Pacific donations of the bridge and surrounding land, while the Restoration Group held that any in-kind donations acquired later would also be used toward the project and were not restricted. That included 803 N. Cherry St., they argued, which was donated to the City by Berkeley and Vincent Dawson, then-owners of Budco beer distributors. The property, though solicited by the Restoration Group, was never conveyed to the group.

Kastely asked Nixon-Mendez about the funding responsibilities of the Restoration Group, particularly what kinds of donations could be raised and dispensed through the city through the Restoration Group’s San Antonio Area Foundation fund. The in-kind donation of the North Cherry Street land did not go through that fund.

“The essential responsibilities were that the City would be responsible for the restoration of the bridge, and the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group would  be responsible for coming up with a cash match,” Nixon-Mendez said.

Though she insisted the memorandum specified the donations would be only monetary, Kastely replied there was no stipulation in the contract that implied the funds raised by the Group were restricted to simply money, and not in-kind donations.

“You didn’t draft the memorandum in order to put the San Antonio Area Foundation as the judge of which of the group’s fundraising activities would be counted towards the match, did you?” Kastely asked.

She brought up the City’s 2002 receipt of a TEA-21 grant from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, which outlined that in-kind donations could be used toward the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Project.

As Klein pointed out, no provision in that grant was made for the North Cherry Street property or the development of a park.

Steve Hodges, the City’s real estate manager who worked on the property’s land transfer between BudCo and the city, said there was no deed restriction to develop the property as a park. A covenant in the deed did stipulate that if the land were used for a park it would be named for the Dawsons.

Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development Office. Photo by Al Rendon.

Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development Office. Photo by Al Rendon.

Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development and Operations Department, confirmed that the property was never designated for future development as a park. Her department later handled the planned sale of the property to Eugene Simor, owner of Alamo Beer Co.

Houston said her staff sought an opinion from the planning and zoning commission regrading the property’s potential use.

“After our due diligence, it was found that it was not a park, it was not intended to be a park, and therefore we recommended to go forward with this economic development project,” Houston said.

City staff then recommended the City Council approve the sale of the property to Alamo Beer.

Houston said she went to the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association and the local Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone board before the contract’s acceptance, and both supported the brewery development.

Eastside resident and Restoration Group member Nettie Hinton said she felt “cuckholded” by the decision to sell the property to Alamo Beer Co.

“I felt betrayed because the City had been a partner with us all this time,” Hinton said. “I felt disrespected as a historic preservationist and as a taxpayer.”

She acknowledged she had not seen the memorandum of understanding between the City and that Restoration Group.

The trial resumes Friday.

*Featured/top image: Hay Street Bridge Restoration Group attorney Amy Kastely (far right) speaks with members of the group while waiting for a decision from Judge David Canales. Photo by Adrian Ramirez.

Related stories:

Hays Street Bridge Trial: Restoration Group Cites ‘Breach of Contract’

Hays Street Bridge Trial Begins With Debate Over Defendants

With Little Neighborhood Support, Others File Suit to Stop Eastside Brewery

With a Hearty Keg Pull, Alamo Beer Co. Breaks Ground on Eastside Brewery

Progress versus Protest: The Path to Smart Preservation and Development

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