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2012-04-12

Whose alley is it, anyway?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

If no one has ever paid taxes on a piece of property and no deed to that property can be found, can that property then be sold to another person?

That's the conundrum Bandera City Council were grappling with during a Thursday, April 5, meeting - just before a local businessman tossed a Baby Ruth in the city's punch bowl.

The agenda item dealt with possibly vacating and abandoning an alleyway located at 307 11th Street. Now included within the 11th Street Cowboy Bar complex, the area in question is the site of a boutique.

City Administrator Mike Cardenas said that questions had never been fully answered about the former alley that may - or may not -belong to two property owners, Alfredo Arizola and Bill Hart. "We don't think it's a city alley. In over 20 years it's never been maintained," Cardenas said.

If that were the case, municipal attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells advocated abandoning or vacating the property. "If it actually belongs to the city, what can it be used for?

You can't maintain it now," she noted.

"According to a deed, the alley is a privately owned piece of land," said Councilman Binky Archer. "It apparently doesn't belong to the city."

In response to Archer's statement, longtime city resident Tom Kindla said, "According to the tax office, no taxes have been levied against the property. It seems to be in the public domain because the tax office has no deed or title to the property."

As a little boy, Kindla recalled wagons traveling up the alleyway to a blacksmith shop. "It was the only access they had," he said.
Referring to James McGroarty, owner of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, Kindla continued, "People have been using that property for profit for several years. I can't see just giving it away. The city should sell it."

Speculating that the alleyway might have been deeded equal distance from each side of two properties owned by Arizola and Hart, Cardenas said, "The city can't sell something it doesn't own."

"Titles to alleyways are the same as titles to streets. Both can be for common use or public domain," Boulware-Wells said. "If the alley is for public use, the city has the responsibility to take care of the property as part of its duty to the state." She went on to say that no document has surfaced explaining how the alleyway was created in the first place.

One long time county resident speculated that perhaps the alleyway had been included in the original plat of the City of Bandera and, as such, still belongs to the municipality - or perhaps not.

Boulware-Wells also noted that the fence surrounding the cowboy bar complex "has not been installed long enough to block the public way."

Apparently, the fence was constructed in 2005.

"The understanding is that the city holds the alleyway on behalf of the state and must determine what to do with it," she added.

Boulware-Wells recommended further research to determine if a historical document of the property references it "in viable deeds of the parties present" - which would be Arizola and Hart.

Bringing the discussion to a halt, McGroarty said, "I spent seven and a half months researching the property and at no time was it deeded. Mr. Arizola sold me 307 11th Street three or four weeks ago. We went through the due process of the law. This discussion is moot. The property is mine."

After noting that questions about the ownership of the alley had been going on for over a year, Councilman John Hegemier asked, "Then why are we here?"

McGroarty's declaration of ownership also did not sit well with Kindla, who reiterated, "According to the tax office, no taxes have been paid on that property."

Even Boulware-Wells professed puzzlement at McGroarty's announcement. She asked, "Did the city receive notice regarding the court proceedings and transfer of property?"

Equally as perturbed, Hart declared, "I should get half of (the proceeds from) that alleyway." Hart rents to McGroarty the portion of the entertainment complex on which the outdoor stage has been constructed.

As Boulware-Wells noted, "The issue is whether Mr. McGroarty's business is on the property legally. How was the (deed to the) property obtained in the first place and how was it held that the property could now be sold? Was the title in Mr. Arizola's name?" She recommended that the city refrain from any action until the paperwork from the ostensible sale of the alley be examined.

Saying, "It's at the legal level now," McGroarty suggested that Boulware-Wells contact his attorneys, Kerry Schneider and Susan Sims, with questions about the purchase of the property.

However, three days prior to last week's city council meeting, Cardenas had visited the tax office and discovered that no transfer of ownership had yet taken place on the increasingly controversial property.

All involved predicted discussions about the alleyway located at 307 11th Street would continue.