Man awarded $1 for 105 acres Port condemned
By: DANA BURKE, Citizen Staff01/19/2006
For years, Seabrook residents have said building the Bayport container facility north of town would hurt property values.
They might be surprised at how much one man got for his tract of land - $1 for 105 acres.
Pasadena land owner Glenn Seureau, II, thinks he was robbed of his by the Port of Houston Authority. He plans to continue an uphill battle with the Port until he is paid fair market value for the land.
One civil court judge, on the other hand, seems to think $1 is compensation enough for Seureau's land, located just north of Seabrook.
Seureau fought for nearly three years to protect his property, in his family for more than 150 years, from the Port's power of eminent domain, only to lose his case in May of last year in the court of Harris County Civil Court Judge Lynn Bradshaw-Hull.
The judge ruled that having paid Seureau $1, the Port now owns the fee simple title to the property. Seureau was also ordered to give back the Port's previous payment of more than $1.9 million at 5.75 percent interest and pay the Port's court costs at the same interest rate.
Seureau has appealed the ruling, and he and his attorneys are currently in negotiations with the Port.
Port officials declined to comment on the case, but confirmed that they are working with Seureau to reach an agreement.
The conflict began in September 2002, when a special commission held a hearing regarding the Port's request to condemn Seureau's land. Seureau did not attend the hearing, and the commission ordered the Port to pay him approximately $1.9 million for the property.
The Port deposited the funds into the registry of the court, taking constructive possession of the land, but Seureau refused to take the money or relinquish the title to the property.
"I didn't think (the Port) had the right to take the property," he said, adding that the Port's need for the land seems to be based on private rather than public interests.
The Port plans to build a portion of the Houston Cruise Terminal on the property.
Seureau also believes $1.9 million is less than the market value for the land, which he had planned to develop with multi-family residences.
He was later advised by an attorney that he did not have the right to contest eminent domain and withdrew the $1.9 million to pay for further appeals regarding the market value of his land.
The Port brought Seureau to Bradshaw-Hull's court on May 16, 2005 to obtain the fee simple title that Seureau had withheld until that point.
On May 17, the judge excluded the testimony of both Seureau and his only expert witness, Louis Smith, saying that neither man could provide evidence that was relevant or reliable regarding the market value of Seureau's land.
According to court documents, the judge's final ruling was based on a lack of evidence to support Seureau's argument.
Seureau also made a motion to exclude the testimony of one of the Port's expert witnesses, Matthew Deal. The court denied that motion.
Seureau, who lives in his 180-year-old family home next door to the recently condemned property, said that although he is not familiar with the judge's intentions, he sees Bradshaw-Hull's ruling as a "punishment" for trying to challenge the Port.
"I was forced to settle for less than market value," he said.
Bradshaw-Hull declined to comment on the case since it is on appeal.
Judge Bradshaw-Hull is seeking reelection on the GOP platform.