Apologetic board threatens litigation
As they tried to straighten out a dilemma caused by an eight-decade-old deed restriction, the DeSoto School Board apologized for suing district residents while promising further litigation if the residents didn't do as asked.
The school board hosted a special meeting Tuesday evening at Mill Valley High School for neighbors of the abandoned Monticello kindergarten building in Shawnee. Because of a 1923 deed restriction that calls for the property to revert back to the neighboring landowners should it not be used for public education, 90 neighboring landowners have a possible stake in the property.
The district has no further use for the building on 71st Street near Crest Street, and board members were blunt in stating their desire to sell the 3.2 acre tract and building. Proceeds would be used for future land acquisitions.
"It is our obligation to pursue (the property's) monetary value," board member Rick Walker said to the 25 neighbors in attendance. "As a board member, I feel I would be negligent if I didn't."
The purpose of the meeting was to examine options and give the board a chance to explain its plans.
This summer, the district filed suit against the neighbors to clear the deed to the property. Superintendent Marilyn Layman and the board members assured the neighbors the suit was a mistake. Although they authorized the school district's attorney John Vratil to take action to clear the title, board members said they didn't know the lawyer was referring to the legal definition of action, meaning lawsuit. The suit was withdrawn when the board realized its mistake.
However, the board members told the neighbors Tuesday that they needed clear title to sale the property. The board will be asking neighbors to sign a quit claim of their possible interest in the property, board president Jim Plummer said. Those who don't will be named in a future lawsuit known as a quiet-title action, he said.
Plummer assured the neighbors the board would win the lawsuit, an opinion neighbor Lee Glenn said he shared after seeking legal advice.
The most popular option with the neighbors was for the district to deed the property to the city of Shawnee for a park. Shawnee Mayor Jim Allen said the city would be willing to accept the property for use the land as a children's playground.
The city's engineer has inspected the building and determined it could be used for document storage for at least the next 20 years, Allen said. Any public use of the old school would require a large remodeling effort to bring it up to code and asbestos removal that would cost more than the building's value, he said.
Despite that estimate, neighbors Phil and Linda Steck said the would like the purchase the property so that they could expand their nearby Montessori school.
Again, board members said the felt obligated to sale the property to the highest bidder. If however, they find it has no value, board members said they would favorably consider deeding the property to Shawnee.
The neighbors were concerned that the district might sale the property to a commercial developer. The property is zoned residential, and Allen assured the neighbors that they could make it difficult for a developer to change that designation.
Neighbor Bill Meyer suggested the board could gain more voluntary quit claims if it stipulated the property would only be sold for residential, school or part uses. The meeting with board members agreeing to consider the suggestion at its Oct. 2 board meeting.