The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Project opponents say fight isn’t over yet

The group of United Methodists challenging the validity of SMU’s land lease to the Bush Foundation plans to file a lawsuit in civil court to stop the transaction.

Led by Rev. Andrew Weaver, the group has quietly been talking with lawyers the past few months to inquire how strong a case they would have in court.

Weaver said the group has finally settled on representation that would work on the case for them.

“We think the points of law are on our side,” Weaver said.

The lawsuit is an escalation in a battle over the lease of Methodist land for the library project. Weaver said the lawsuit is a parallel battle to one that is occurring within the Methodist church.

SMU had to receive permission from the Mission Council of the South Central Jurisdiction of the church to lease land for the project, which it got in March 2007. But Weaver and his supporters maintain that final approval does not rest with the Mission Council. They point to a meeting this July in Dallas that would have the measure voted on by 290 jurisdictional delegates.

SMU seemed concerned enough about the validity of the Mission Council’s approval to get the lawyers representing the Bush Library Foundation to obtain a letter with the signatures of the Methodist Bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction verifying the lease in early January of this year.

SMU president R. Gerald Turner said at Friday’s announcement and Monday’s campus meeting that the school believes it has all the approval it needs from the mission council and is not concerned about the dispute.

“We’re proceeding on that basis that we received the permission and we informed the foundation of it,” Turner said.

Weaver said the agreement between the school and the Bush Foundation is the worst of all outcomes because there is a small amount of oversight on the institute – the part of the complex that upsets his group.

He said the legal battle to stop the land lease will not be cheap, but said it will be worth the money spent if they get the outcome they want.

As far as the vote this July at a meeting of Methodists, Weaver said he has never been more optimistic that the results will go their way.

“It’s an affront to these people and their rights in the church,” Weaver said.

Vodicka speaks

Two options exist for additional land for the complex and the primary one involves a portion of the University Gardens site that the school is still embroiled in a legal battle over. Former condo owner Gary Vodicka sued the school over title to the land, but SMU won the case in district court in Dec. 2006. That decision allowed SMU to begin demolition of the property, but an appeal by Vodicka is currently in the fifth circuit court in New Orleans.

Turner said the Bush Foundation’s concerns over the case created a second option that does not involve the University Gardens site. Instead, the current intramural fields would be used for additional library complex needs.

The designers of the project have indicated to SMU a final decision will come this summer on where buildings will be placed, so a ruling will be needed by then.

“Now they’re having to back track because they see, ‘uh-oh,’ this hasn’t been resolved,” Vodicka said.

Vodicka said the library planners will want a “grandiose entrance” and will not want the complex immediately next to SMU Boulevard – which means pushing the buildings south and the use of the University Gardens land.

Vodicka said if he wins his appeal in the fifth circuit court, then the land would be tied up for another year before the case could go to trial back in a district court.

“It surprising to me they haven’t made any overtures to get this resolved,” Vodicka said.

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