By Ayesha Siddiqi , CNN Written by
Preservationists have taken an unlikely step in their fight to save the site of the Alamo, where 14 brave Texans died trying to defend their town from an invading Mexican army in 1836.
It all started when Commanche, a unique porcelain reminder of the site, was discovered last year. Today, the small urn containing the delicate repositions of the native beads is just one of several artifacts scattered across the site of the stone building that has spurred a renewed interest in preserving the historic site.
But an adjacent plot of land has launched a fresh round of rivalries over the land rights, with some landowners accusing preservationists of violating private property rights.
‘Dodgy land deal’
In a letter to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the owners of five parcels of land put forward by the coalition of preservationists in April alleged that they were “unfairly denied an opportunity to negotiate with us regarding their property interest on the southeast portion of the site.”
“We want our property, but they are mining that site,” said Henry Conrad, who, with his wife, Eva, owns three of the parcels.
The developers are planning to turn the land into condominiums, he added.
The developers did not respond to a request for comment.
“(Conrad and his family) took a long hard look at this property. We decided to go through with the development,” Bush told CNN.
The space is currently used as a parking lot for the surrounding area, according to Secretary the Land Commissioner, Robert Hardie.
Conrad and Hardie both say they are anxious to reach a compromise with the coalition. But Hardie indicated that the land must be sold back to the original landowners, as they own the underlying rights.
Conrad’s family donated the site to the city of San Antonio when it was relocated in the late 1930s.
The legal dispute comes amid an ongoing fight for the site’s future, where several competing developers want to turn the area into condominiums.
The mayor and the land commissioner have already declared the area a priority. President Donald Trump recently toured the site during a stop in Texas in September.
The Obama Administration in 2016 put the $15 million relic on the National Register of Historic Places.
The change made the Alamo the most visited historic site in Texas, with more than 4 million visitors in 2016.
The battle for Alamo land
Three other governments within the Alamo complex — city, county and federal — are also jockeying to gain ownership of the plot of land.
On its Facebook page, the coalition of landowner residents have attempted to band together with a new campaign, and claim that a developer group was courting a $2.3 million bribe from public officials. The mayor and the land commissioner have dismissed the claim.
Only local governments can use eminent domain to acquire private property, and both cities and the federal government have attempted to negotiate land purchase agreements with the Coalition of Landowner Residents.
Last month, Mayor Ron Nirenberg launched a new initiative for the city, known as Alamo Court. The proposed program would invite nonprofits, preservation groups and private individuals to buy or rent vacant land at the site, as an alternative to building condominiums.
There are currently no confirmed projects for the vacant land at the Alamo complex, Nirenberg said.
“When you go through the process of making decisions, you need a little bit of time to evaluate the pros and cons. The city is currently in discussions with the preservation organization as to how best to have this through this in the most efficient and cost-effective way.”
The mayor admitted that the discussions are sensitive.
“This is my dream and my passion,” Nirenberg said. “Alamo Court is something I am passionate about that a lot of people do not realize.”
But rebuilding the Alamo can’t happen without three things, according to Nirenberg: An expansive parking lot for visitors, grounds to store artifacts, and an ongoing struggle to keep plots of land within the Alamo complex from being occupied by developers.
“To get these things back under the Alamo is going to take some time,” Nirenberg said.
“This is not a quick turnaround. This is not like a series of golf tournaments that can be held during a dry season, and this is not like a popular museum,” he said.
“If you’re going to have thousands of people come and admire the Alamo every year, you have to respect their level of commitment and their dedication. The key to everything is to ensure that we can keep Alamo sacred. That’s the goal.”