Rhademes Solano's plight first came to public attention in February, when he showed up at a public meeting in southern Dallas. Along with community activist Carlos Quintanilla, he protested the city's plan to seize 23 acres he owns near the intersection of Intersection 45 and Great Trinity Forest Boulevard to make way for the Texas Horse Park.
His case was sympathetic: Solano, a 61-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic and former public school teacher, had owned the land for 16 years, operating it as the Trinity Park and Club, a semi-private park. There were a pair of lighted soccer fields, a concession stand, a picnic area -- all amenities not widely available in that part of southern Dallas. He wondered why a well-established community asset was being shoved aside to make way for City Hall's newest bauble.
"This is not a community project," Solano said of the horse park, according to Schutze's report from the February meeting. "This is only for people with money."
The city responded by moving forward with its eminent domain lawsuit. Ever since the Trinity River Corridor Project was first being planned in the mid-1990s, they argued, the city has been snatching up parcels of land within the 100-year floodplain, partly for flood protection, partly so that the project's various recreational features can move forward. Plus, they've pointed out, Solano built three structures on his property in the floodplain without the proper permits, and they have no record of receiving sales tax money from Solano or the Trinity Park and Club.
Last month, the judge in the case awarded Solano $300,000 for the loss of his property, about $45,000 more than the city had initially offered.
Solano still isn't quite satisfied. He showed up at this morning's City Council meeting to protest the seizure of his land, portraying it as an attack on his family and the community.
Quintanilla was there, too. "It seems that when it comes to displacement in the city of Dallas, the Hispanic community is always being displaced," he said, gesturing to the 15 or so residents of the Dallas West Mobile Home/RV park whom he'd brought with him.
There were indeed racial undertones. The four men who spoke against the city's seizure of Solano's land were Hispanic. The one woman who spoke in support, a Pleasant Grove resident named Yolanda Williams, as well as the council members who spoke most vociferously in favor, were black. "I'm offended," Williams said, "when I hear anyone sit here to say they're working for the community."
But Williams was more concerned with scoring a high-profile amenity for her community ("I want you to remember: We too deserve something nice in Pleasant Grove") than with race, and council members were simply eager to move forward on a long-delayed project.
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"The citizens of Dallas have made the decision to go forward with the Trinity River Project," said Councilwoman Vonciel Hill. "The horse park is part of that project. It is important to the citizens of southeast Dallas."
Besides, Hill pointed out, the matter has already been decided. The council has already voted to use eminent domain and gotten tentative approval from a judge; the discussion today was simply on whether to allocate the $300,000 payment.
Solano's hope now is that the city will allow him to lease back his property until the second phase of the horse park is built. City staff were resistant to the idea, fearing the buildings on the property might be unsafe, but Councilman Scott Griggs struck a hopeful note.
"I hope this does not come down to an either/or proposition," Griggs said, saying the city should follow the doctor's oath to do no harm. "I think we come into the communities, we look at the assets that are there, we build on the assets that are there. You look at a soccer field and you add a horse park to it."