The proposed ordinance to limit the city’s eminent domain authority was submitted April 9 by supporters of the Montessori Children’s House school at 1900 Hedgcoxe Road. Plano is looking to take an easement on the school’s property to put in a hike and bike trail that would connect the Russell Creek Park and Hoblitzelle Park trails.
Montessori Children’s House owner Effie Saifi said the loss of the easement would hinder her planned expansion and adversely affect her current operations. Saifi and the city have been in a legal fight over the land for the last four years.
“The city [is] wasting taxpayer dollars on this case against my school,” Saifi said.
During a special called meeting of Plano City Council on April 20, City Secretary Lisa Henderson said only 4,237 of the nearly 7,500 signatures included on the petition could be verified for the minimum requirements under state election code and the Plano city charter.
“Section 702 of the charter requires signatures equal to 20% of the number of votes cast in the last regular election, or 4,403 for this petition,” Henderson said.
City staff spent around 300 hours doing multiple reviews of the document, City Manager Mark Israelson said. Aside from the lack of enough qualifying signatures, City Attorney Paige Mims said the proposed ordinance was in conflict with state law and would not be enforceable.
“At the end of the day, this ordinance would have no legal meaning, in our opinion,” Mims said. “It's just in conflict with a lot of things and also would create some exposure to the city for paying attorney's fees. For those reasons, we don't think that the council should take this up.”
In his closing remarks for the meeting, Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said the proposed trail connection has been part of the city’s Parks Master Plan since the 1980s and that plan was previously acknowledged by Saifi and her family.
“For years, we have negotiated in good faith to come to a reasonable conclusion to this,” LaRosiliere said. “In the meantime, I've seen a campaign of falsehoods [against the city]. ... That is completely contrary to how we operate as a city. This is not who we are and is inconsistent with the way we conduct our business. It's a shame ,and unfortunate, we've come to this point.”
Mims said Saifi has appealed a previous court ruling concerning the easement, and a trial on the matter is scheduled for this summer in county court.
“We have just kind of decided to let her have her day in court this summer,” Mims said.