EDINBURG — A judge believes the city might not be treating developers equally and signed a temporary injunction Friday that could impact the construction of the new county courthouse.
Judge Fred Garza of County Court at Law No. 4 ordered the city of Edinburg to fully enforce its Unified Development Code and adhere to its building permitting process, especially for large construction projects. Garza specifically mentioned private and public developers seeking to construct projects in excess of $5 million.
“As part of any site plan, the developer (either public or private) must demonstrate that zoning is proper, that the proposed development has a viable plan providing for adequate drainage … and that sufficient parking … has been addressed for both the period during and after the construction itself,” the injunction stated.
Garza’s order stems from a lawsuit filed by Jane Cross, the Republican candidate running against Richard Cortez for county judge — the county’s highest elected seat — in November.
“My understanding is there’s been some problems with that Bert Ogden Arena and that there’s been code violations out there,” she said. “Of course, no one is trying to develop something that big, but it’s the principle that everyone is equal before the wall.”
Cross, a real estate developer herself, doesn’t believe the new $150 million courthouse should be located in the city’s downtown square, which is prone to flooding.
“I think one of the (permitting processes) has been broken down because nobody in their right mind would OK a (project) there without some extensive drainage work,” she said about Edinburg’s courthouse square. “I hope this stops them, because why would you put a courthouse in a lake if it’s not self-serving?”
Cross’ lawsuit is vague but mirrors one filed earlier this year by the developers of The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, which is one of Edinburg’s most successful retail developments, located near the intersection of U.S. Expressway 281 and Trenton Road. The developer, however, dropped the suit shortly after it was filed.
Cross’ attorney, Keith Livesay of McAllen, said he’s been in contact with the Shoppes’ attorney about the case, but is working independently. David N. Calvillo, who was hired to represent the developers, did not respond to a request for comment.
Cross couldn’t point to any specific instances of prejudice when she spoke to The Monitor last week, but said she has enough experience in the industry to believe some developers get a better deal from the city.
“If you’re going to be the builder you have to go through the same regulations as everybody else,” she said. “Just because you’re the county you just don’t get to go in and say, ‘I’m the county. I get to do what I’m supposed to do.’”
Livesay presented enough information in court to convince Garza some developers may have been shown preference.
“On the basis of the evidence, the court finds that a substantial probability exists that defendant City of Edinburg may not treat all real estate developers (both public and private) equally… in uniformly enforcing its Unified Development Code, building code, construction permitting process and ordinances for large construction projects…” the injunction states. “Such conduct raises the specter of a constitutional violation and could also implicate the public health and safety.”
Edinburg city officials declined to comment on the lawsuit earlier this month, saying the city had not yet been officially served. City Manager Pilar Rodriguez, however, spoke candidly about the permitting process for the courthouse project.
“They’ve spent quite a bit of time here at city hall, looking at reviews,” Rodriguez said last week about representatives from Jacobs Project Management, the company overseeing the construction of the new facility.
At the time of the interview, the county had not yet applied for a foundation permit, which will be one of the first necessary to break ground in two weeks.