Lawsuit filed against City, Toyota alleges 20-year agreement is unconstitutional

Southside Affordable Development said this agreement is costing the company millions of dollars, and they have taken legal action.

SAN ANTONIO – Unconstitutional and improper taking of private property; that is how a lawsuit filed this morning against Toyota and the City of San Antonio describes a 20-year-old agreement between the city and the automaker.

Southside Affordable Development LLC states in its lawsuit that the agreement from 2003 gives Toyota the right to approve zoning changes for all property within 3 miles of the plant — even property that Toyota does not own.

Southside Affordable Development said this agreement is costing the company millions of dollars, and they have taken legal action.

“Enough is enough, and we believe this is unconstitutional, illegal and we’re going to do something about it,” David Prichard, attorney for Southside Affordable Development LLC said.

Prichard took to the courthouse steps Monday morning to announce the company’s legal action, stating that the agreement between the city of San Antonio and Toyota has engaged in illegal contract zoning for the last 20 years.

The suit alleges that the Project Starbright Agreement created the Enhanced Zoning Area, allowing the city to zone property to Toyota’s satisfaction within 3 miles of the plant.

Affordable Development LLC owns 97 acres near the Toyota plant, and they stated because their land falls in the enhanced zoning area within three miles of the plant, they cannot reserve the area for what they want to do.

“It’s a world-class project that is sorely needed on the underdeveloped, historically underdeveloped South Side,” Prichard said.

Southside Affordable Development LLC states they have a contract to sell the property to develop affordable multi-family housing — more than 700 apartments on 34 acres — but the agreement is contingent on rezoning — which was struck down.

The lawsuit alleges the company was denied rezoning due to the agreement with Toyota, and for that agreement, the transaction could have proceeded.

The lawsuit points to two sections of the Texas Constitution and the Private Real Property Rights Preservation Act.

“Southside [Affordable Development LLC ] and its predecessors have owned this property since before Toyota came to town,” Prichard said.

Southside Affordable Development states that because of the agreement and denied rezoning — the value of the land goes from 15 million dollars to between three and four million dollars.

“Toyota knows because attached to our petition, one of the former lawyers for Toyota that was engaged in this star bride agreement, who is now a city council person, was there in the conference room in the negotiations,” Prichard said.

Prichard refers to an email the lawsuit points to that was allegedly sent by District 8 City Councilman Manny Pelaez.

The suit states that Pelaez was an attorney for Toyota and witnessed the creation of the zoning agreement. The lawsuit also shows that in June of this year, Pelaez wrote to an employee of Southside Affordable Development LLC, in part, “So, was this an unconstitutional taking of your property? Maybe. Probably. But what is not up for debate is that it was a very cynical move to keep you and others from maximizing the best use of your property.”

While the suit was filed on Monday, it is far from over.

“Our hope is that we are going to be able to sit down without the need of litigation and to pursue an amicable resolution with the stakeholders here,” Prichard said.

KSAT contacted Pelaez, whose office stated that he had no comment on the suit or the email.

Additionally, KSAT contacted Toyota, and they, too, said they have no comment.

The City of San Antonio did release a statement:

“The City of San Antonio has not been served and the Plaintiff’s did not provide a courtesy copy of the suit before holding its press conference. Inflammatory rhetoric does not substitute for facts and sound legal arguments. There have been many zoning cases in the area surrounding the Toyota facility. Some have been approved and some have not, but always with consideration of factors allowed under zoning laws. We will defend the lawsuit and rely on the facts rather than hyperbole and misinformation.” — City Attorney Andy Segovia

About the Authors:

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.