The University of North Texas System has started the process to buy or use eminent domain to obtain a strip of properties mostly along Avenue C just south of the campus.
The Board of Regents approved the move in February, and property owners started to receive acquisition offers this week, dated June 21 from the vice chancellor for facilities and planning. The impacted properties are 903 Kendolph St., site of Eagle Car Wash; 902 Ave. C, home to Campus Bookstore; 906 Ave. C, home to New York Sub Hub and Naranja Cafe; and 1000 Ave. C, the address of Oriental Express. The property owners have one month from June 21 to respond, the letter states.
While the issue has been looming for months, the letter came after four months of no communication from university and system officials, said Hunter Christiansen, owner of New York Sub Hub.
“We had zero phone calls, zero visits and zero communications until this right here,” Christiansen said, holding a letter sent to his father, the property’s owner. “Considering we’ve been in business here for 40 years across the street, and probably every single person who is involved in this has probably come here to eat, it’s a little unreal no one has ever sat down to talk to us.”
Bob Brown, the university’s senior vice president for finance and administration, said officials needed to follow the formalities of the eminent domain process and worked to prepare offers based on independent appraisals. The letters need to follow a certain format because eminent domain is on the table. If property owners rebuke offers, the state will have to get involved, Brown said.
“I think we were trying to be consistent with each of the property owners as we handled this, and we had to make sure the [Texas] Attorney General’s Office was comfortable with our approach,” Brown said. “The fact that we sent a letter doesn’t preclude conversation right now, and it doesn’t preclude any property owner from making an alternate proposal if that’s what they choose.”
For 906 Ave. C, the property that houses New York Sub Hub and Naranja Cafe, the university offered $700,000. UNT’s letter says an independent appraisal values the property at $520,000, while the Denton Central Appraisal District says the property is worth $272,478. While the offer is over the value, Christiansen said it isn’t enough and that his family has no plans to accept the offer.
Relocating will mean a loss of business from either locals who come to the spot or college students who can walk to the restaurant, he said. Plus, the cost and time of being out of business will be a hit to the family on top of relocation costs. While these things have been discussed, the family doesn’t know what they’re going to do moving forward and will meet with a lawyer soon, he said.
“I don’t feel that it’s right that UNT can do this, and I know a lot of people outside looking in don’t see the entirety of it and the connection that my family has with this place,” Christiansen said. “Everything that I’ve done for this store, that my parents have done and that my brother have done can now just be taken away.”
Luna Li, who owns the property that houses her family’s business, Oriental Express, says she feels the same way. Her family has owned the business for decades, and her parents passed the property ownership to her once she was an adult. While Li is hands-off with the business, her mother still runs the shop.
“This property put all three of us through school,” Li said. “My mom and I have no interest in selling it, and we’re going to fight until the end. We know several other business owners in the area that did well when they sold, but it’s more than just money. It’s been in the family for so long, and it’s put us through so much. We want to keep it.”
Li’s family is still waiting for the letter from UNT officials that was sent June 21, she said. University officials declined to release the letter to Li’s family and other property owners when asked Wednesday.
“We believe the property owners deserve to read their respective offer letters from the university first, before the letters are shared publicly,” said Leigh Anne Gullett, a spokeswoman for the university.
Christiansen said he’s also concerned about why the school wants the property, as he hasn’t seen any plans for the plots. UNT System officials are in the process of hiring a master planner to figure out what could come next, Brown said.
Regardless of what UNT will build in its place, Christiansen said he thinks there’s other property UNT could develop that doesn’t house successful mom-and-pop businesses.
“I don’t think that our location staying here will impede on the progress UNT can make as a whole,” he said. “They may not be able to get what they want here, but that won’t stop them from expanding and becoming a great university.”