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Dallas has trouble locating planet Earth

Atlas shrugged: On Monday, 14th Civil District Judge Eric Moye put the planet Earth back where it belongs, much to the relief of people clinging to its surface in one East Dallas neighborhood. In the infamous "dirt skirts" case, a zoning dispute over building heights, Moye ruled that city of Dallas building inspectors and a subsequent appeals body had violated the city's own ordinances—not to mention science, common sense and probably the Bible—by trying to change the location of "the ground."

Last year, neighbors near a property at 6159 Oram St. were shocked when a new apartment building rose to four stories in a zone normally limited to three. The builder pointed out that the zoning didn't really say how many stories the building could go up, only how many feet it was allowed to be built up from "the ground."

So, he tried to change the meaning of "ground" by installing concrete planter boxes around the building, filling them with dirt and saying, "There's the ground." When he measured from the top of the planter boxes, he was A-OK.

And brace yourself for this shocker: City building inspectors looked at it and said, "Yep, that's the ground all right."

Jamie Pierson, who had built a house across the alley, took the builder to the City Board of Adjustment and lost.

In a one-hour trial, however, Judge Moye, a graduate of Harvard Law School, decided against the builder on the basis of: The ground is the ground, you dummies. OK, he didn't put it exactly that way, but c'mon.

Actually, Moye ruled on the basis of what a structure is. Using the common definition in building codes and law books everywhere, he said a structure is "anything artificially built up of parts." The ground, then, is what's underneath the structure.

Nice to know that a Harvard education is worth the money.

Pierson, the plaintiff in this matter, had three—count 'em, three—lawyers in court with him. Does anybody have any idea what it cost this man to force Dallas City Hall to concede that the ground is underneath the buildings?

Moye agreed to issue a writ overturning the ruling of the Dallas Board of Adjustment. Moye expressed concern for people living in the building and said he didn't want to issue a ruling that might make "four families homeless."

Pierson's lawyers told him they thought there might be other solutions. Maybe it's finally time for somebody else to take out his checkbook.

—Jim Schutze

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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