Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mike Northrup Secures a Win for Historic Preservation

By Mike Northrup

Mike Northrup helped secure a victory for historic preservation interests and Texas municipalities in the Texas Supreme Court.  This case (City of Dallas vs. TCI West End, Inc.)  involves a property owner’s unauthorized demolition of a train depot in Dallas’ Historic West End District.  The City of Dallas obtained a judgment against the property owner for civil penalties.  The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, holding that Dallas could not enforce the historic district ordinances in question because they were not “health and safety ordinances,” which the court held was a requirement under the Texas Local Government Code.  The court of appeals also held that there was no evidence the property owner had been provided with actual notice of the applicable zoning law.    The city appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.  Mr. Northrup filed an amicus brief with that court on behalf of the Texas Municipal League, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Texas, Preservation Dallas, Historic Fort Worth, Inc., and the San Antonio Conservation Society expressing concerns that the court of appeals opinion had eliminated a valuable enforcement mechanism of cities in historic districts.

The Texas Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals opinion, holding that the lower court erred by limiting the particular section of the Texas Local Government Code to health and safety matters.  The supreme court also observed that whether the property owner had notice of the zoning ordinance or not was disputed, but that dispute was not the only question the court of appeals was required to resolve.  The court held that the sanctions could be supported if the property owner failed to take action to comply after it received notice.  Here the property owner could have sought a retroactive approval of the demolition.  The supreme court remanded the case to the court of appeals to address this latter question.

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