In December 2012, the Dallas City Council approved the condemnation of the Trinity Park & Club, a 23-acre complex of soccer fields and cross-country trails near the Trinity River in Pleasant Grove. The owner, a wiry, Dominican-born ex-high school coach named Rhadames Solano, had spent the past 15 years turning the neglected parcel into a social hub for the neighborhood's booming Hispanic population, with adult soccer leagues and affordable space for community events.
Solano, the city's explanation went, is in the way of progress; the precise nature of that progress remains unclear. His land abuts the recently opened Texas Horse Park and is within walking distance of the under-construction Trinity Forest Golf Club. A decade ago, when plans for the horse park were much grander, Solano's property was to house the horse park's harness racing facility. Now, who knows? Maybe that's where the fancy hotels and restaurants the horse park and golf course are supposed to bring to Pleasant Grove will go. Maybe it'll be a parking lot. Maybe it can supply more dirt for the golf course. The point is: A blue-collar soccer club doesn't jibe with the city's vision for the Trinity River Corridor.
Solano has refused to budge. He turned down the city's original offer of $256,671. When the city filed a condemnation lawsuit in early 2013 and a panel of special commissioners awarded him $300,000, he rejected that as well. He's spent nearly two decades building up the club and has no interest now in ceding it to the government. He refused to accept the fundamental reality of eminent domain in Texas: so long as the government can offer a remotely plausible reason for needing a piece of property, the government can take it.
Solano's fight against the city may be drawing to a close. On Monday, Dallas County Court at Law Judge Ken Tapscott is scheduled to hold a final disposition hearing. According to court documents, Solano has agreed to settle the case and accept the $300,000, which is now $292,507.18 because of property taxes. Under the agreed judgment, Solano will vacate the property at or before 11:59 p.m. August 1, including the removal of all light poles, the cinder-block snack stand, the screened pavilion, and any other improvements.
The thing is, Solano says he doesn't agree to any of that. Sitting at a picnic table in his club last Friday, he said he plans to keep fighting. The agreed judgment filed with the court was the product of a mediation process that was rigged, as both the mediator and his attorney were focused on how much Solano would be paid for his property rather than the matter Solano wanted addressed, which is whether the government had a right to take the property in the first place. (Solano's attorney, Julia Pendery, hasn't returned a call seeking comment, but we'll note that condemnation suits are mostly focused on haggling over price; opportunities for challenging the propriety of a taking are few). Solano also accuses the mediator and Pendery of playing his wife, Brenda, against him. They insisted that she attend the mediation, where they dangled the prospect of a $300,000 payout before her. Unlike Solano, she's tired of fighting the city and is more than willing to take the money and move on. The family's legal tab -- $50,000 and counting -- has further dampened her fighting spirit.
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Solano says he will likely file a lawsuit against the city seeking to stave off condemnation, but success seems unlikely. Property rights in Texas are sacrosanct unless and until the government says it needs them. It's infinitely more probable that Solano and his soccer fields will be gone from Pleasant Grove by the end of summer.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.