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News Empty-handed



The City is shopping for land for A&M, but the Ledge hasn’t cut the check

Over the past 11 years, Gary Haun has built a loyal customer base at his South Side auto-inspection station, which he operates out of a rented building at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Santa Rita.

In 2005, the City announced that Texas A&M might build a San Antonio campus that would displace Haun and his neighbors. The plan proposes spending $15 million to buy out approximately 100 residential and commercial property owners along Roosevelt Avenue and southwest of the thoroughfare to its intersection with Loop 410.

These properties along Roosevelt Avenue have long been vacant. The City’s plans to purchase up to 400 acres on the southwest corner of Roosevelt and Loop 410 for a Texas A&M campus are on hold because the legislature hasn’t approved funding. (Photos by Michael Cary)

Some area business owners have said they are willing to sell properties that have been in the family for decades to make way for the campus. Terramark Communities of Houston has purchased 3,000 acres near the proposed site and is planning a major subdivision development. Mission Del Lago continues to grow near the shore of Calaveras Lake.

But Haun says the City’s plans to purchase up to 400 acres for the A&M project could put him out of business and on the streets. And he contends that the City intends to acquire the property whether or not the Texas Legislature approves A&M’s request to issue tuition-revenue bonds to build the new campus.

“They are trying to screw the people here,” says Haun. “Texas A&M has admitted they don’t have the money, and `District 3 Councilman Roland` Gutiérrez wants to take `the people’s` property that’s chicken shit.”

Mayor Phil Hardberger recently sent a letter to Texas A&M chancellor Robert McTeer expressing concern that the legislature had not yet approved the tuition-revenue bonds and that the City and A&M did not have a binding contract in place.

“The City has no agreement with A&M concerning the campus and there is currently no money to build the campus, both of which were conditions by the council and your board to purchase the land,” Hardberger wrote in the letter, dated October 6.

“The question I face as mayor is whether we should proceed to commit the City to spend over $15 million of taxpayer dollars, as well as use the City’s eminent-domain powers to evict property owners, for a project that is underfunded and for which A&M has not committed in a legally binding agreement,” the mayor’s letter continues. “I need A&M’s word that it is committed to the project.”

Gary Haun is frustrated about the proposal, as it could affect his auto-inspection business.

Ernest Haffner, planning and special-projects manager with the San Antonio Development Agency, says the City is proceeding cautiously with the purchase of properties in the proposed campus area. “Decisions need to happen before a final offer is made to property owners. We have new City Council members trying to get up to speed with the details the City is trying to get a firm commitment from A&M the City is still deciding where to get the money for the purchase,” says Haffner. “We also have a new city manager who needs to be brought up to date on all prior decisions.”

However, says Haffner, the City hopes to begin making offers in the very near future.

Councilman Gutiérrez, meanwhile, has launched a petition drive to goad the legislature into approving the tuition-revenue bonds during its next special session.

“Our representatives, both in the House and Senate, have yet another opportunity to push the tuition-revenue bonds, which are essentially the last obstacle that needs to be cleared to ensure a Texas A&M campus comes to the South Side,” says Gutiérrez, who graduated from UTSA and St. Mary’s University Law School.

He says there are thousands of potential A&M students who would like to have a school in their back yard. “My hope is to disseminate the petitions through all local high schools in addition to getting the neighbors to support the school. I hope to get 30,000 signatures, and I hope to take them to Austin.”

Gutiérrez says that a majority of landowners in the area are “ready, willing, and able to sell their property. Imagine the economic growth that would happen.”

But Haun says no one from the City has talked to him about his future if his landlord sells out. He says there is plenty of open land that could be acquired on the South Side to build a college campus without displacing an established neighborhood.

“When I lose my business, I’ll have to go live under a bridge, but I won’t even be allowed to live there,” says Haun, who works 10 hours a day, six days a week. “You don’t do away with the citizens that made this city. That’s bullshit.”

By Michael Cary

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