Austin judge temporarily halts demolition, construction at Union Plaza neighborhood

Union Plaza is currently the proposed sight for the Downtown arena project. Credit: KFOX14 / CBS4

A judge in Austin has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city of El Paso from going forward with demolishing buildings in the arena footprint.

The temporary restraining order will prohibit the city from entering new contracts related to acquiring property, demolishing it or beginning new construction on any of the property in the arena footprint.

"We've stated a claim that holds water. Because of that, it's important that nobody change their position dramatically between now and July 17,” Cassandra McCrae, an attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, said. “Because it sincerely is an open question, whether or not the city can move forward with this."

Hector Franco, who lives in the arena footprint, said he didn’t know which way the judge was going to rule.

"I heard about it in the morning. But you never know what the hell they're going to do,” Franco said. “It can go one way or the other."

City Attorney Sylvia Firth said these conditions are something the city can work with for now.

"The city had already told the Rio Grande Legal Aid that El Paso was not going to undertake any demolition immediately," Firth said, adding that

contracts the city has already entered into are already closed into escrow.

"As soon as the sellers are able to provide clear titles to the city, they get their money," Firth said.

The restraining order comes days after six demolition permits were issued by the city for properties in the Union Plaza neighborhood.

The restraining order said arena opponents claim the city’s use of the bond funds wasn’t authorized by voters and would be an illegal expenditure of those funds.

"This isn't over. This is just the first, I might call it, a little skirmish," said Carmen Rodriguez, an attorney for one neighbor.

The opponents also said the city doesn’t have the authority to construct a new downtown multipurpose performing arts center.

The city has to follow the order but the private property owners do not necessarily have to follow it.

There have been six demolition permits issued by the city for different properties in the arena footprint.

Firth says depending on how far along property owners are in the demolition permit process, they can continue with demolition.

"We're looking at how this will affect us. So right now, my staff is working with the building and permits people to find out where everyone is in the process to see how this will be affected,” Firth said.

The attorneys for the people who live in Union Plaza said today was a victory, even if it was a small one. But Franco said doubt still lingers in the neighborhood.

"The owners, they don't give a damn if we move or if we don't move. What they want to do is just destroy everything,” Franco said.

"The property owners should be aware what the court has done, “Rodriguez said. “In fact, the city should make them aware because they don't have any certainty of what will happen."

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