Condo owner signs deal with SMU over Bush library

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2009 5:54 PM

A former condominium owner and Southern Methodist University officials have settled a four-year property dispute involving the site of George W. Bush's presidential library, both parties announced Tuesday.

Plaintiff Gary Vodicka and attorneys for SMU said they can't reveal the deal's specifics. The former condo owner said he will receive enough money to leave an inheritance for "my children's children."

"It's over, and George can have his library now," Vodicka said.

Tuesday's announcement was not the first time the parties appeared to put the dispute behind them. An earlier settlement evaporated in August, with Vodicka accusing the school of expanding the deal beyond the agreed-upon terms and SMU claiming Vodicka and the other plaintiff were making a play for more money.

The latest agreement still could be tripped up by a contingency that both sides declined to disclose but characterized as minor. A court hearing to finalize the settlement was scheduled for Jan. 7.

Vodicka and fellow ex-condo owner Robert Tafel alleged in the 2005 lawsuit that SMU engaged in a conspiracy to force out the condo residents, buy the property on the cheap and use it in a bid to land the Bush library. Tafel settled with SMU last month, also for an undisclosed amount.

"It has lasted since August 2005, and it's lasted long enough," said John McElhaney, an SMU attorney. "We are ready, willing and able to go through with the settlement if the contingency is satisfied."

Vodicka has agreed to give up all claims to the property and turn over roughly 70,000 documents related to the case.

Both sides agree that SMU a decade ago decided to start buying the approximately 350 units at University Gardens, a 40-year-old condominium complex across the street from the campus in University Park, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Texas.

The school eventually bought 97 percent of the units, stacking the homeowners association board with SMU employees and others affiliated with the university who did not own units or live at the complex.

The holdouts were Tafel, who owned one unit, and Vodicka, who had four units. The men said SMU breached its legal duty to the other condo owners by allowing the facility to fall into disrepair so it could be torn down. They said it was part of a master plan to claim the land for the Bush center.

SMU always maintained the process of acquiring the complex was lawful and that it did not intend to bid for Bush's presidential library when it began buying condos in 1999. The school bulldozed the condos in 2006.

The case gained national attention when a Texas district judge sided with Vodicka and ordered Bush to appear at a deposition, the first time a former or sitting president was ordered to testify in state court. The order was eventually overturned.

The land upon which the condos once sat will be part of the library grounds. Officials hope to break ground on the project next year and open it in 2013.

Last week, former first lady Laura Bush unveiled the design of what is officially being called the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The 227,000 square-foot center will house an archive, a museum and a policy institute.