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Preschool owners battling city over eminent domain for 4 years

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    PLANO, Texas (KTVT) — Effie Saifi says she and her family have been in the fight of their lives against the city of Plano to protect the Montessori Children’s House Daycare and Preschool, which she says has been her dream ever since opening 17 years ago.

“I want to stand up for what is right.”

Their legal fight over eminent domain has lasted four years. “It’s very sad to see this is happening.”

Plano wants to put in a hike and bike trail that would connect Russell Creek Park and Hoblitzelle Park trails.

It’s preferred option is to take two easements on the school’s property near Hedgecoxe Road and Georgetown Drive.

In 2017, the city said it would cost about $950,000, the cheapest of three options.

Another route would go through a wooded area next to the preschool, and would cost nearly $1.4 million.

A third option would have the bike path on Georgetown Drive, which runs along the other side of the school, at a cost of $1.1 million.

A completion date for the project has not been set yet.

The city says it began having discussions with Saifi about the trail since 1999.

Saifi says losing the easements would make it impossible for her to fully expand with new classrooms, playground, and parking. “Every square foot in this land is going to be used.”

She worries the bike trail will cause her to lose customers who worry about their children’s safety, and ultimately force her to close. “The safety issue is a concern. It’s a concern for me, for my staff, and for parents.”

The city’s attorney, Paige Mims, says she doesn’t think the school would need to close.

A mediator initially recommended the city pay Saifi more than $28,000 for the easements.

But Saifi appealed saying her losses would amount to nearly $2 million when considering her school’s worth.

The city and Saifi blame each other for not settling the case.

The city attorney spoke about the dispute during an open meeting April 6. “We do everything we can to try to come to an agreement with the property owners.”

Saifi and her family, and their supporters don’t see it that way.

Heather Mills, whose worked there and had her children attend the school says, “We’re supposed to be an all-American city and it’s heart-breaking.”

To end the impasse, the Saifis submitted thousands of signatures to the city one week ago as part of an initiative petition.

It’s a procedure allowing residents to propose ordinances.

The Saifis’ ordinance would force council members to either withdraw the case or allow voters to decide in a special election November 2nd.

Council members will hold a special meeting Tuesday evening to decide what to do.

Saifi’s daughter Mina said, “It is the last chance. It’s bigger than us. It’s not just about us. Though we hope we get our justice.”

During the April 6 City Council meeting, Mayor Harry LaRosiliere also commented about the dispute. “The narrative that the big, bad city of Plano is trampling over citizens I think is patently false. That’s not how we operated.”

But the legal costs are adding up, turning what was once the cheapeast option for the bike path, into one that may be the most expensive.

The city says it has spent about $250,000 to hire outside attorneys.

If the Council Members vote for a special election, the city says it would cost $180,000.

The city may also have to pay Saifi’s legal fees, which she says have surpassed $200,000.

Saifi says her fight has caused a lot of heartache, but is too important to give up. “I want to set an example for my students, the members of the community, for larger community.”

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