The University of North Texas has officially started the eminent domain process to acquire four properties near campus.
The move comes four months after university officials sent offer letters to buy the following: 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 site of Oriental Express.
Officials notified property owners by letter Oct. 14 that since no property owners accepted UNT’s initial offers, eminent domain is starting. UNT will be represented by Clint Harbour, an assistant attorney general who specializes in condemnation hearings when public entities take private land.
“As the university and property owners have been unable to reach agreement after four months, the court will appoint neutral parties to hold a hearing and determine fair pricing for the properties,” said Leigh Anne Gullett, a spokesperson for UNT, in an emailed statement. “As the university continues to grow and thrive in Denton, our students need more housing, classrooms and labs. Our campus borders severely restrict where we can seek additional land to build infrastructure necessary to continue delivering the quality educational experience our community deserves.”
Hunter Christiansen, the second-generation owner of New York Sub Hub, has become an informal spokesperson for the impacted businesses. He’s gained attention through social media posts, an online petition and building awareness through posters at university events.
Regents authorized the use of eminent domain in February, which kicked off the acquisition process. In June, Christiansen’s family was offered $700,000, while the owners of Oriental Express were offered $500,000. The car wash was offered $500,000 as well, and Campus Bookstore was offered $800,000. None of the property owners accepted the offers.
“First and foremost, we all want to be left alone,” he said. “It’s not about the money or anything like that; we want to be left alone and continue what we’ve been doing.”
Christiansen said in the past four months there wasn’t much communication with university officials since his father is the property owner. He’s heard that once current businesses are demolished, UNT will build a mixed-use property with retail on the bottom floor and student housing above. He said in this scenario, he’d want to get and own the same square footage he has now, but his idea was rebuffed.
Other suggestions were to update the exterior to fit the look of campus, or make an offer they can’t refuse, Christiansen said. Officials never provided a second offer, he said.
The university never received counter offers though, according to the statement. With no consensus reached, this was the next step to move forward.
Christiansen and the other business owners are looking into legal representation as they figure out the next steps now that the eminent domain process has started. But it’s not too late to strike a deal, he said.
“I’m fighting for justice and what is right, because this isn’t right that they can do this,” Christiansen said. “It’s not too late for UNT. Let us stay here. If we need to fix up outside to make it more of what you want, then let us.”