Can Developers Sue You Because You Don't Like Their Development?

Neighborhood groups and developers often have a hate-hate relationship, but things in Beacon Hill got particularly sour this summer over developers’ plans for a Stripes gas station on the corner of Fredericksburg and Woodlawn.

At issue – at least at first, anyway – was whether the gas station’s design met the community building standards established when the city created the Beacon Hill Neighborhood Conservation District years ago. Residents argued the plans didn’t, so after the development was cleared by the city, the neighborhood group filed a routine appeal with the city’s Board of Adjustment, footing the $600 filing fee with donations from local residents.

That’s when Mark Granados with GFR Development Services, the developer behind the gas station and adjoining properties, threatened to sue the neighborhood association if it didn’t drop its appeal. An email from District 1 Councilmember Robert Treviño’s office to the neighborhood group says Granados even called the council office in late May to say he'd sue the group unless the parties could reach an agreement. 

It didn’t take long for the neighborhood association to drop its appeal. As Beacon Hill Area Neighborhood Association President Cynthia Spielman told members at a community meeting earlier this month, the group decided it couldn’t afford to be tied up in litigation and individual members were wary of getting roped into a lawsuit with a developer.

“We were kept from the democratic process. We were bullied out of it,” Spielman said at the meeting, which was recorded and streamed by NowCastSA (see their videos and initial take on the development dustup here). 

Naturally, Granados has a much different take. “The fact of the matter is I stood up to the neighborhood group and I refused to be bullied and extorted,” he told the Current when reached by phone on Monday. Granados called the neighborhood association members “a bunch of gutless chickenshits” who he says have blindly fought development that could better the neighborhood.

“A bunch of unemployed know-it-all planners and architects come up with a list of things to make the neighborhood look like Mayberry and it doesn’t work,” he told the Current. Granados insisted he had every legal right to sue the neighborhood group for interference.

Still, the Beacon Hill Area Neighborhood Association and some local public officials have apparently used the spat as a catalyst for educating neighbors on the state’s strong anti-SLAPP law, which is supposed to protect people from being sued simply for participating in or bringing their concerns to government. As one flyer by state Rep. Diego Bernal and state Sen. José Menéndez reads,  “Speaking up for your community is a protected act." 

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