Baptists Get the Garage?

Appellate court upholds church's victory against city, neighbors

In what's likely the final round of a years-long legal dispute, the 3rd Court of Appeals last week upheld a lower-court ruling that allows Hyde Park Baptist Church to proceed with its controversial plans for a five-story parking garage on Avenue D. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Baptists will in fact do so, or if the possibility remains for another deal between the church and its Hyde Park neighbors.

The ruling, authored by 3rd Court Justice David Puryear, affirms an earlier decision by Travis Co. District Judge Pete Lowry that the 1990 development agreement governing HPBC's expansion plans – negotiated between the church, neighbors, and the city – allowed for construction of the massive garage on "all or a portion of the western half" of the block, without constraint by other provisions of the agreement or of city code. As such, Lowry ruled in granting summary judgment to the church, the City Council erred when it heard and granted an appeal of staff's approval of the garage site plan back in 2000.

Both Lowry's ruling and the appellate decision turn on the meaning of "on all or a portion of," which Puryear – relying largely on his Webster's Third – concludes allows the church to build as big as it pleases. "We must presume the phrase was intended to have meaning," his opinion reads, "and we can comprehend no other meaning for the phrase other than to establish the size of the parking garage. Consequently, we can only conclude that [the section of the agreement] establishes all relevant site-development standards: the parking garage's height, location, and bulk." Chief Justice Ken Law and Justice Jan Patterson concurred with Puryear's opinion.

Since the case has never actually been tried, neither court has considered evidence from both neighbors and city staff that the 1990 agreement was not, in fact, intended to permit a five-story building with minimal setbacks, that doesn't comply with Austin impervious-cover regulations, right next to single-family homes in historic Hyde Park. But barring an unanticipated appeal by the city to the Texas Supreme Court, neighbors are ready to pull this deal back out of the courtroom and to the negotiating table. "What's important to us, as neighbors, is finding a way to bridge our differences and break the cycle of lawsuit and appeal," says Glen Coleman of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. "Despite the ruling, we'd like to invite church leaders to join us in exploring projects that will fulfill the true mission of the church, while enhancing the neighborhood we share." Hyde Parkers feel – or hope – that the changes in the local economy might make the garage's $5 million price tag, along with the continuing acrimony with the neighbors, more than the Baptists are willing to bear.

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Hyde Park Baptist, Hyde Park Baptist Church, Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, parking garage, Avenue D, 3rd Court, David Puryear, Pete Lowry, all or a portion of, Glen Coleman

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