Statement and litigation history regarding Oliver Nature Park bridge closure

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On Thursday, February 15, 2018, a brief hearing on the Savering v. City of Mansfield litigation was held in the 348th Judicial District before Judge Mike Wallach. At the hearing, the Judge acknowledged receipt of the Court of Appeals Mandate and ordered that the City place a barrier on the bridge to prohibit or deter pedestrian access over the bridge. Additionally, the City was required to place a no trespassing sign on the barricade and was further directed to handle any allegations of trespassing in conformance with appropriate State Law.

The Temporary Injunction was issued pursuant to the Court of Appeals Directive in order to preserve the status quo pending resolution of the case by final trial. The Court has set the case for trial for the week of December 3, 2018. The Temporary Injunction will remain in effect until further order of the court, typically until the case has been tried and all legal issues have been determined via the judicial process.

litigation between the parties in this dispute is centered on the ownership of certain real property generally referred to as the R2 lots and so identified in the Arbors of Creekwood

Subdivision Plat filed for record in 1995.  The lots in question lie along the southeastern bank of Walnut Creek as it abuts the Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park (Oliver Nature Park) property.  The litigation involves certain individual lot owners in the subdivision who have sued the City, the City’s Park Development Corporation, certain individual officers of the City, and the Board of Directors of the Homeowner’s Association of the Estates of Creekwood Subdivision (an entity formed as a successor entity to the original HOA for the subdivision).

In 1994, the original developer of the Creekwood Estates subdivision (Robert McCaslin), secured approval of a subdivision plat for the development of residential lots southeast of Walnut Creek.  During the development process, Mr. McCaslin engaged in conversations with representatives of the City concerning future development issues in the area.  As a portion of those discussions, Mr. McCaslin became aware that the City intended to extend a public trail along Walnut Creek to be identified as the Walnut Creek Linear Trail System.  In September of 1995, Mr. McCaslin requested the resubdivision of certain lots within the Creekwood Estates Development to create a new layer of lots directly abutting the creek. The newly created lots were designated as “R2″ lots for identification purposes.

The approval of this resubdivision occurred at the City of Mansfield Planning & Zoning Commission meeting held on September 7, 1995.  At that meeting, Mr. McCaslin, and the City planning staff, explained to the Commission that the resubdivision of the lots was to create property over which the trail could be extended and that the lots were going to be reserved for public recreation use only.  The Planning & Zoning Commission approved the replatting to create the R2 lots. As stated previously, the R2 lots directly abut Walnut Creek along its south and eastern boundary. None of the R2 lots have direct frontage on a roadway.

During the process of developing the Creekwood Estates Subdivision, the Developer constructed a 4 foot wide trail across the R2 lots near the boundary with Walnut Creek.  The trail has historically been open at both ends along the boundary of Walnut Creek. One end of the trail connects to a cul-de-sac on a public roadway in an adjoining subdivision.

On December 11, 1995, the Developer filed Declarations of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions on the Creekwood Estates Subdivision.  Language within the forty-seven (47) page document stated that green belts, trails, walk ways, arbors, and guard houses, will be owned by the Homeowners Association to be operated for the benefit of the subdivision. The Declaration contained a legal description identifying the lots to be included in the development. The R2 lots were not included in that description.

On December 22, 1995, the Developer conveyed the R2 lots by Deed to the Community’s Foundation of Texas to be held for the benefit of the City of Mansfield’s Parks and Recreation Program until such time as the City was prepared to develop and utilize the lots for park purposes.

Commencing in September 2010 the City of Mansfield began the process of developing the Oliver Nature Park running along the western/northern side of Walnut Creek.  The Oliver Nature Park is a major community recreation park which serves as a nature preserve and environmental education center within the City’s Parks and Recreation Program.  It contains training and educational areas and amenities to educate the public on the natural resources, topography and vegetation of the Mansfield area.

The R2 lots were conveyed from the Community’s Foundation of Texas to the Mansfield Park Facilities Development Corporation by Deed on December 11, 2012. In the spring of 2013, the City of Mansfield constructed a pedestrian bridge across Walnut Creek, connecting the Oliver Nature Park to the boundary of the R2 lots along the southeastern portion of Walnut Creek. The purpose of the pedestrian bridge was to allow the Nature Park to be connected to the Walnut Creek Linear Trail System, which is being constructed throughout the City of Mansfield and which will ultimately end at Joe Pool Lake.

The Plaintiffs in this litigation, who are individual homeowners within the Estates of Creekwood development, requested that their HOA attempt to stop the development of the pedestrian bridge as they believed it would disrupt the “gated” nature of their development, which was supported by private roadways behind vehicular gates.  The HOA did not choose to become involved in the dispute, and after an independent investigation, decided that title to the R2 lots lay with the City through the Deeds conveyed by Mr. McCaslin to the Community’s Foundation of Texas and ultimately to the Mansfield Park Facilities Development Corporation.

On January 21, 2014, the Plaintiffs brought suit against the City of Mansfield, the Park Facilities Development Corporation, and ultimately the Board of Directors of the HOA, claiming that the R2 lots belong to the HOA by way of the language contained in the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions filed in December of 1995.  The City, the Parks Development Corporation and the HOA answered the litigation stating that they believe the lots in question are owned by the City through title traced to the Deeds from Mr. McCaslin’s development corporation to the Community’s Foundation of Texas, which were issued and recorded in December of 1995.

The Plaintiffs initially sought a Temporary Restraining Order from the trial court requiring the City to close the pedestrian bridge.  On January 24, 2014, the District Judge denied the granting of a Temporary Restraining Order, and allowed the bridge to remain open.  On January 24, 2014, the Plaintiffs secured a hearing seeking a Temporary Injunction from the trial court requiring that the bridge be closed.  After a hearing before the Court, the Judge denied the request for the Temporary Injunction.  On February 18, 2014, the Court signed an Order setting a hearing on Plaintiffs’ Motion to Reconsider, the Plaintiffs requested a rehearing on the issuance of a Temporary Injunction.  The Court granted them a rehearing in which evidence and argument were presented to the Court.  At the close of the hearing, the trial judge again denied the requested injunctive relief by letter dated December 9, 2014.

On January 30, 2015, the Plaintiffs appealed the decision of the trial court to deny the Temporary Injunction.  A three Judge panel for the Appellate Court heard the appeal and denied the Plaintiffs’ request to overturn the District Judge’s decision.

The Plaintiffs then filed a request for the entire Court of Appeals to reconsider whether or not the trial court had acted properly in denying the injunctive relief.  On January 21, 2016, the full court returned a decision denying the appeal and preserving the decision made by the trial court.

On February 5, 2016, the Plaintiffs again asked for a rehearing on the denial of the appeal of the Temporary Injunction.  On May 26, 2016, a panel of Justices on the Court of Appeals once again denied the request to overturn the trial court and its decision not to grant the Temporary Injunction.

On June 13, 2016, the Plaintiffs asked for the full court to review the rehearing on the appeal from the trial court’s decision.  On September 29, 2016, the entire Court of Appeals returned an Opinion on a 4 to 3 vote reversing its previous rulings, overturning the trial court’s decision, and ordering that the Injunction be granted.

On January 13, 2017, the City and the Parks Corporation sought a discretionary review of the Court of Appeals decision from the Texas Supreme Court.  On December 15, 2017, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order stating that they would not consider the matter at this time.  The case has been referred back to the trial court to implement the decision of the Court of Appeals overturning the trial court’s decision and directing that an Order to barricade the pedestrian bridge be issued.

During the course of the appeal of this case, the Plaintiffs have made several additional amendments to their lawsuit and the Defendants have responded to these pleadings.  Discovery in the case is now complete, and the case is set to be tried before a jury commencing the week of December 3, 2018.

The decisions of the Appellate Court in this dispute related solely to the granting of a Temporary Injunction pending the final resolution of all fact and law disputes between the parties.

The trial court will conduct a full evidentiary trial in which all issues in dispute between the parties will be presented and resolved in the December 3, 2018 proceeding.  Following the final decision reached before the trial court, any party that disagrees with the result will have the right to launch an appeal or appeals under Texas law, based upon the evidence and findings contained in the trial court record.

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