Aldine Schools Threaten To Seize 79-Year-Old Man’s Home for Stadium Parking Lot

A family in Houston, Texas, is at risk of having their generational home seized to make way for the expansion of the adjacent high school football stadium’s parking lot.

In April, the Aldine Independent School District voted to authorize the use of eminent domain to seize the home and surrounding acre of land currently owned and occupied by 79-year-old Travis Upchurch, reported the Houston Chronicle in July.

The land has been in Upchurch’s family since 1916 when his relatives first immigrated to the area from Sweden. At the time they settled there, the area was predominately agricultural, dominated by dairy farms and pecan trees.

Beginning in the 1970s, Aldine ISD started purchasing up the land around the Upchurch property as part of the construction of its current football stadium. Today, it’s surrounded on three sides by stadium parking. The vacant lot abutting the fourth side of the property is also owned by the district.

“My dad has pretty much been in a high school football stadium parking lot since then,”  Travis Upchurch’s daughter, Tara Upchurch, tells Reason.

Tara Upchurch says that she had expected Aldine ISD would want to buy the land once her father passed away. Her family’s expectation was that until then, he’d be able to stay in their longtime family home.

That expectation was upended in June when Travis Upchurch received a letter in the mail informing him that the school district was intent on purchasing his land as part of a $50 million rebuild of the existing stadium.

“It was pretty shocking,” says Tara Upchurch. “It was really hard to process the loss of it.”

Aldine ISD said in a statement to the Chronicle that they tried to purchase the Upchurch property voluntarily last year but had their offer rejected. Tara Upchurch and her father both dispute this, saying they were never approached by the district about a voluntary purchase of their property.

After receiving the letter, Tara Upchurch said she contacted several eminent domain attorneys in the area who all told her that her options for fighting the seizure were limited to haggling over compensation.

In response, she and her family have tried to work out an arrangement with the school district that would let her father continue living at the property. Initially, the district seemed receptive to the idea.

After a district board meeting in July at which Tara Upchurch spoke, she says that her family was approached by district staff who suggested they could agree to a life estate. The district would take ownership of the land but Travis Upchurch would be allowed to stay in his home.

Tara Upchurch says her family jumped at the idea: “Yes that’s the goal. Keep my dad in his house.” But, she says, after that July conversation, they didn’t hear anything else from the school district about a life estate.

On Wednesday, the school district sent a final offer letter to Travis Upchurch, who has 14 days to respond.

“These are delicate conversations that balance community needs and individual needs,” Aldine ISD said in a statement to Reason. “We have continued to negotiate with the Upchurch family. No eminent domain proceedings have been filed at this time.”

In January, the district broke ground on the stadium project. It is scheduled to open in August 2024.

Tara Upchurch says the stress of the potential seizure of his land has caused her father’s health to deteriorate. She also argues that there’s no reason for the district to seize the land when other vacant properties already owned by the district near the stadium could just as easily be converted to parking.

In the meantime, she says that she’ll continue trying to rally public support to convince the district to not go through with the seizure.

“It feels like an unjust use of eminent domain,” she says.

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