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Gregg County, Kilgore primed to demolish school for housing project

By Glenn Evans
Nov. 29, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Gregg County and one of its cities appear poised to clear a road block to a Kilgore request for help - and it has nothing to do with county road and bridge crews.

Officials with the city of Kilgore were perplexed, earlier this month, when a request for help demolishing and clearing a long-abandoned school was rebuffed by the county.

"I think everybody was frustrated," Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said of his refusal, on advice of the county auditor, to deny Kilgore's plea for help.

The city had asked Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd for use of a road and bridge crew to help demolish and clear the old C.B. Dansby School in the city's north sector. Closed by desegregation in 1969, the former all-black school has deteriorated into an asbestos-infected, blighted property.

Co-owned by the city, county, Kilgore College and Kilgore ISD, which took the property when a subsequent owner defaulted on taxes, city officials were glad when an Austin developer asked to build housing for low and moderate-income working families on the five-acre site.

The school district on Monday agreed to pony up its $50,000 share of the $192,000 demolition cost, and the college staff has promised a positive recommendation when their trustees next meet.

Boyd was ready to send in the roads crew, as the county's in-kind contribution to the cost, when County Auditor Laurie Woloszyn applied the brakes. Counties, it turns out, cannot perform any action unless it is specified by state statute, and road and bridge crews aren't authorized to tear down buildings, she said.

That was this past week, before news reports of the impasse prompted phone calls and meetings between city and county officials. It also was before Assistant District Attorney Janie Johnson, the county's legal counsel, got back from vacation and joined the discussions.

"I think everybody - we're out of the mist," the county judge said Thursday. "We'll be moving forward with participation as defined by the nature of the proposal to the county - after legal approval."

Boyd said he, Kilgore Mayor Ronnie Spradlin and Kilgore City Manager Scott Sellers agreed Wednesday that Sellers would submit a new request letter. This one doesn't mention a road and bridge crew, it simply asks for assistance.

Sellers said Thursday the process has been educational.

"In the later conversations between the county and the city we learned, while the road and bridge funds and crew could not be used for the project, there were probably other avenues we could pursue," Sellers said. "Whatever avenue the county determines does fit the statute, they will be able to consider it."

The developer, Austin-based Herman & Kittle Properties, is applying for tax credits to parlay into investment funds to build some 60 town homes. Representative Stacy Kaplowitz told the Kilgore City Council on Nov. 13 the company hopes to provide restricted-rent housing for working low- and moderate-income families.

The estimated development cost is $8 million for the group of one- and two-story, low density town homes, she said.

"The Dansby site seems like a unique opportunity to clear up the site and improve the community," she said.

The city, which is trustee for the other government owners, sold the site to the company for $10. The nominal amount was allowable, City Attorney Robert Schleier said, after the lot reverted to the governments for back taxes and did not sell at public auction.

Boyd, whose Precinct 3 covers much of Kilgore but not the Dansby school, fielded the original Kilgore request because he is a former city commissioner and trustee for the Kilgore Economic Development Corp.

He said Thursday he has Sellers' amended request letter and will write his own cover letter and submit the request to Johnson for forwarding to the full commissioners court.

He was happy to have Johnson back on the beat.

"It's Janie's expertise that has helped us find a way to do this after I said we can't do it because my mind was fixed on road and bridge," he said. "All of these (requests) have got to stand on their own. This deal has a private developer in it, it has a housing component. It has a piece of property in it - the list goes on and on."



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