This story has been corrected.
Neighborhood renaissance. It’s a phrase used multiple times in the Interstate 20 Corridor Small Area Study that was adopted by the city of Longview in 2017 after months of discussion and planning.
“The existing large neighborhoods south of LeTourneau University and east of Estes Parkway are important drivers to the success of the Interstate 20 Corridor,” the study states. “In its existing condition, the neighborhoods are a collection of disconnected subdivisions that lack a true sense of identity and strong residential character. As a first step in the neighborhood renaissance, strategic road and trail additions can form an enhanced, interconnected community ...”
That area of town also had been highlighted as needing attention in the city’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan.
To that end, the bond package that Longview voters approved in 2018 included $3.3 million for work to a quirky intersection at Mobberly Avenue, Estes Parkway and High Street that comes together in a series of traffic lights and yield signs.
That plan calls for “reconfiguration of the intersections of Estes Parkway, Mobberly Avenue, High Street, and Edwin Street” that also “extends Millie Street through to Mobberly Avenue.” An entryway monument and landscaping is part of the plan as well. Longview’s Public Works Director Rolin McPhee said plans are to convert that intersection into a “traditional T intersection.”
But first, a family that has operated the business Novedades Lizbeth at that intersection for what they say is more than 20 years must relocate — possibly through the city’s use of eminent domain to acquire and tear down the approximately 4,000-square-foot building.
In the building, Rene Cornejo and his wife, Sylvia, say they have operated a restaurant, a store featuring South American imports such as boots and jewelry, and money transfers to Mexico and other countries. They said that part of their business sees thousands of transactions every month. It’s an important service for the Hispanic community, said their friend, Nicholas Priego, who sometimes translates for the couple.
“It’s not good for me,” Rene Cornejo said of the possibility of having to relocate his business, saying he put “a lot of work” into the business during the past 20 years.
“They work hard for all of this,” Priego said.
McPhee said said city representatives approached the Cornejo family to begin negotiations for the property right after the bond election was approved.
“We’re not purchasing a business. We’re purchasing a property,” McPhee said. “We’re purchasing just where the business is housed. The business can move and relocate.”
State law governs the process of taking property through eminent domain, and the city hired an appraiser who considered a variety of factors to value the building at $175,000. (The Gregg Appraisal District values the building at $67,690.)
“Their counteroffer was $2 million,” McPhee said. “We couldn’t get any further along than that.”
While the City Council approved the use of eminent domain in this instance in December, those official proceedings as detailed in state law have not yet started, said Chase Palmer, an attorney working for the city.
“We’ve attempted to work with Mr. Cornejo on purchasing the property, or moving through the steps as we’re supposed to. We have not yet filed an eminent domain proceeding. We were hoping to work with them and obtain a resolution,” Palmer said. “You file an eminent domain proceeding when there’s no other alternative. We’re probably getting close to that point.”
He said the city also is working with a relocation assistance company that already has started working with the Cornejos.
While the Cornejo family expressed concern about the process and amount of money offered by the city in early December, Cornejo has declined to speak further to the News-Journal.
McPhee said the city identified the project that makes the demolition of the project necessary, and voters approved it during a bond election.
“When we scope out projects and we determine projects, I think it’s incumbent upon us to execute that,” he said.
District 3 Councilman Wray Wade, whose district includes the family’s property, did not respond to calls requesting comment.