The TMC's power to condemn

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Today’s Chron carries an op-ed by Asmara Tekle-Johnson and Hugh Rice Kelly on the Texas Medical Center’s power to condemn private property, and how it is using that power. Here’s an excerpt:

The Texas Medical Center’s explosive growth combined with the condemnation power over “adjacent” property exercised by its obscure service company, “Texas Medical Center Inc.” Legally, “adjacent” means much more than is generally understood: TMC Inc.’s condemnation power extends to the boundaries of single-family, deed-restricted neighborhoods — on the west for four miles, from Main at Sunset to the Rice Village, back to Main along University Boulevard, and from there almost to Brays Bayou. On the east, a two-mile boundary extends condemnation jurisdiction to the Riverside Third Ward neighborhoods.

Nor is this threat a mere possibility. TMC Inc. already has established its willingness to condemn and bulldoze deed-restricted homes, 16 so far, and “extinguish” their single-family deed restrictions.

The chilling consequences of TMC Inc.’s residential condemnations are obvious in a five-minute drive through the Central City subdivision near Holcombe Boulevard at Almeda Road. Once a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of modest homes, in the past five years Central City has been devastated. Today it is marked by a score of bulldozed lots and more than half of its home sites have fallen into the hands of speculators — and TMC Inc. A 500-car employee parking garage looms over the neighborhood where homes once stood. Its glaring lights by night and its bulk by day now dominate the landscape. On the garage side of the subdivision, only two of 18 houses survive, the homes of their vanished neighbors condemned and bulldozed. A neighborhood brimming with children must now cope with cut-through traffic, light and noise pollution, and streets clogged by parked cars.

And while we have often commented on METRO’s quasi-governmental status, TMC Inc. sounds far worse:

TMC Inc. is operated by an invisible, self-perpetuating board that does not account to any public authority. No open government processes apply to this wholly private company, and its management and board are beyond the reach of open records requirements, open meetings laws or any other democratic process. While the media and citizens can protest and influence the actions of the governmental and regulated entities entrusted with eminent domain power, the people have no forum to challenge TMC Inc.’s decisions — a singular privilege endowed on no other private entity in Texas history.

The writers note that state Rep. Garnet Coleman has sponsored HB 3709 which would end the TMC’s power to condemn homes. This sounds like a worthy bill to get behind. And after that, maybe someone will offer a bill to curb METRO’s power to condemn private property.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.