The Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling against the City of San Antonio on Friday in a case involving land next to the historic Hays Street Bridge.
The “narrow and technical” ruling does not impact the contested sale of the land nor the residential development slated for construction, according to a City news release. Rather, it denies the City’s argument that it is immune from litigation because the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group challenged the use of the land rather than seek monetary damages.
But if the group continues to win in appeals court and again in district court, its attorney Amy Kastely said, construction of the apartment complex could be halted or reversed.
“Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Manager Erik Walsh must listen and respect the needs of our community and push for the Cherry St. property to return to public hands and follow the original [memorandum of understanding], transforming this space in a visitor’s center for San Antonio residents and visitors alike,” officials with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, which is associated with the group, wrote in a press release.
Click here to download the memorandum of understanding (MOU).
The legal battle began in 2012, when the community group sued the City to block the City’s sale of the nearly 2-acre property to Alamo Beer Co. The group claims the land was intended to be a park as part of the restoration project, but the City has cited a document outlining its preference as a residential development.
The local beer company has since built its brewery on an adjacent lot on the other side of the bridge and deeded the property at 803 N. Cherry St. to real estate developer Mitch Meyer. Meyer’s proposed five-story apartment complex received approval from City Manager Sheryl Sculley after a divided Historic and Design Review Commission recommended denial twice.
In 2014, a Bexar County jury found that the City had violated the memorandum of understanding when it sold the land, but that it was never a park. Click here to download the judgement. Three years later, the 4th Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, saying the City was immune from being sued for breach of contract. The Supreme Court disagreed Friday and has remanded the case back to the appeals court, according to Chief Justice Nathan Hecht’s official opinion, “for consideration of the City’s remaining arguments.”
When the appeals court found the City immune, it did not consider the breach of contract decision from the district court, according to the City Attorney’s Office. That means the appeals court will now review the breach of contract issue.
Kastely said the restoration group has enough evidence to prove that breach.
“If it rules in our favor … then [the case] would go back to district court and then have a hearing on our motion that says the city has violated the  judgment” that called for the City to fulfill the restoration project.
The City contends that it already fulfilled that judgment.
“The City applied proceeds from the sale of the property adjacent to the Hays Street Bridge to the budget for the restoration of the bridge,” according to a City press release. “The ruling does not impact current or future development in the area.”
“They’re just wrong,” Kastely said in response.
Legal arguments aside, she added, the City should not have “gifted” the land to Alamo Beer Co. and its owner Eugene Simor in the first place. The City sold the property to Simor for $295,000, then he received an $800,000 incentive package from the City to develop the brewery.
“The City seems determined to enforce a backroom deal,” said Kastely, who is working on the case free of charge for the restoration group. “As a taxpayer, I’m outraged.”
The community group helped raise funds for years to restore the 1880s bridge. Once a haven for illegal activity, it has become a vibrant pedestrian and bike path connecting downtown to the near East Side, which has seen its own investment and revitalization.
If the appeals court doesn’t ask for new briefs, then they could hear oral arguments in four to five months, Kastely said. A decision is “most likely” due in 2020, but could be sometime this year.