Homeowners win fight with city over cleanup of North Side drainage ditch

Records show city has owned land since 1976

By Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter, Josh Saunders - Photojournalist, David Raziq - Investigative Producer

SAN ANTONIO - North Side residents who were threatened with court fines if they did not clean up a strip of land behind their homes have had those notices rescinded, after public records showed the city has owned the land in question for more than four decades.

"They upset them. And we called the city and the city kept saying, 'No, it's your responsibility. That is not a drainage ditch,'" said Howard Chamberlain, whose 88-year-old mother received notices in late March and in April.

The paperwork from San Antonio Code Enforcement told residents in the 1700 block of Corita Street they had 20 days to remove brush from an alley behind their homes or else risk receiving a summons to appear in municipal court.

Chamberlain, who grew up in the home in which his mother still resides, said the land has not been an alley for more than 40 years.

San Antonio Development Services Department Director Michael Shannon said during a recent interview that the notices were issued in error.

"We don't want anyone doing our work for us, of course, but at the same time sometimes it takes a little bit of time to find that research," said Shannon.

When asked to comment on the optics of a code compliance officer issuing notices of violation to elderly residents, ordering them to clean up land the city actually owns, Shannon responded, "That's not our goal. Our goal is not to terrify any citizen."

Shannon said a search by city staff uncovered records from December 1976 that backed up the residents' claims and indicated that the homeowners sold the city rights to the strip of land as part of an easement and right-of-way agreement. 

Residents were paid $10 per household to relinquish their rights to the land behind their homes, which was then transformed into a drainage ditch, city records show.

Shannon said the ditch has now been added to the city's regular cleanup schedule.

Photos provided by Development Services officials show that the area was cleaned up the day Shannon interviewed with KSAT 12.

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