North Overton’s signature street is Glenna Goodacre Boulevard. It is four lanes wide with a landscaped median in the middle and runs from University to Avenue Q. Curiously, the street narrows to two lanes one block before it reaches Avenue Q. The apparent reason for the sudden street narrowing is that when North Overton was being developed, the owner of the Travelers Inn chose not to sell his motel to developer Delbert McDougal at a price McDougal was willing to pay. The Travelers Inn sits in a prime location on the corner of Glenna Goodacre and Ave. Q. across from the Civic Center and is only a stones throw from the new Wal-Mart, a strip retail center and the new Walgreens drug store. All except the Civic Center were developed by McDougal.
When the City put in Glenna Goodacre Boulevard, it decided not to condemn the Travelers Inn to widen the road all the way to Ave. Q. It is my guess that the City realized it would be cheaper to just narrow the road to one lane each way for the single block occupied by the motel rather than purchase the motel and demolish it for a wider road. This was the correct decision and the proper use of taxpayer dollars because the narrowed road causes little inconvenience to drivers who use that portion of Glenna Goodacre. Most traffic on the street is toward the west closer to University and Texas Tech. The City also made the right decision for individual property rights. No government entity should take private property unless it is absolutely necessary for the public good. The City decided, when Glenna Goodacre was widened, that it was not in the public interest to take the corner where the Travelers Inn sits.
Somewhere along the way something or someone changed the City’s mind. In 2009, Mayor Tom Martin signed a resolution authorizing the condemnation of the Travelers Inn for the stated purpose of widening Glenna Goodacre Boulevard for one block to Avenue Q. The City hired Lubbock attorney Zach Brady to represent the City in the condemnation procedure and he filed suit against the hotel owner in 2010. A hearing was held before three private citizens as provided by law and the citizens determined that the property was worth in excess of $600,000. The City deposited the money with the Court hoping it could then immediately begin demolishing the motel. However, the owner appealed the award putting any demolition on hold.
On first glance, this all seems perfectly legitimate. The City apparently changed its mind and decided that Glenna Goodacre needed widening after all and that it would be a good and proper use of taxpayer funds to condemn the motel. But, as always when the City of Lubbock is involved, there is more to the story. While researching the downtown redevelopment contract, I ran across a couple of e-mails that shed a different light on the transaction. The first e-mail is from Delbert McDougal to Rob Allison, former Assistant City Manager. It is dated November 22, 2010. I will reproduce the e-mail here just as it was written:
what is going on with the travlers inn?? can’t the city put some heat on the attorneys. this thing has gotten out of control. malouf is not happy nor am I. somebody needs to give zach a deadline??
Apparently when Delbert McDougal is not happy, the City of Lubbock is not happy.
Here is Rob Allison’s response. The e-mail is written to City Attorney Sam Medina with a copy to Delbert McDougal and Linda Chamales, an assistant city attorney.
Sam-as a follow up to our conversation yesterday. It has been several months since the condemnation hearing on the Travelers Inn was completed. It’s in appeal. Things are moving very slowly and I would like to ask for your help. First, could you check and see if their (sic) is some way to move the case forward at a faster pace. Second, the timing of this case becomes less sensitive if both parties could agree to demolish the building. The developer involved in a project with the adjacent property is not able to start a development until this case is settled or the property is demolished. This process has taken so long, I’m hearing this development may go away. Zach is aware of both of these issues. Let me know if you need more information.
Thanks for your help.
Several issues come to mind after reading the e-mails. The City of Lubbock is paying more than $600,000 in taxpayer funds for a corner of land for the stated purpose of widening Glenna Goodacre Boulevard to four lanes for a distance of only one block. Why is the project being done now? Is it a proper use of taxpayer money for such a short widening project? What is wrong with the street as it is currently designed? Also, why is a private developer involved in demanding that the City move faster on a road widening project? Was the road widening project just a subterfuge for the public paying to buy out the Travelers Inn so that McDougal could develop the adjacent property with Malouf Interests? If so, this is an illegal use of tax money. A public entity cannot condemn private property if the purpose is to benefit a private citizen. Private property can only be taken by a public entity if the purpose of the taking is to benefit the public. The e-mails seem to indicate that the real reason for the taking of the motel by the City was to benefit the adjacent property being developed by McDougal and Malouf. Nothing in the e-mails discusses the need to widen the road. The main push to complete the condemnation seems to be so that McDougal and Malouf can develop the pad for retail development.
Another troubling aspect of the e-mails is the apparent control that a private citizen has over an assistant city manager, the city attorney and a private attorney hired and paid for by the City. No citizen should have so much power that he can demand that a public condemnation project, paid for by taxpayer funds, proceed at a pace that suits him so that he can benefit from the public taking of private property. This is simply wrong.
Hopefully, this article will result in an investigation of the facts behind the sudden need to widen Glenna Goodacre Boulevard. If it is determined that the real reason for the condemnation was to benefit a private developer at taxpayer expense, then every effort should be made to hold those responsible for this decision accountable.