George W. Bush Library Land Dispute Settled

The dispute between Southern Methodist University and condominium owners over land for the George W. Bush presidential library is over.

SMU reached an agreement Friday with Gary Vodicka, who alleged that the university forced him out of his condominium to make way for the project and lied about its intentions. A settlement reached a day earlier with fellow condo owner Robert Tafel also was announced Friday. Terms were not released.

"SMU is pleased that the issues are resolved and looks forward to conducting the business of one of America's top universities!" SMU attorney Mark Lanier said in an e-mail.

Vodicka called it a fair settlement.

"The 70,000 confidential documents prove that everything that I have ever said from Day One in this case is absolutely true," said Vodicka, a lawyer who represented himself in the lawsuit.

SMU President Gerald Turner disagreed.

"Obviously we've never agreed with his assertions," said Turner, adding that no decision on the merits of the case were made in the settlement. "We've always been and continue to be very comfortable with where we were vis-a-vis the law."

The university maintains that it followed proper procedures in acquiring title to the condos.

Turner said SMU officials felt good about their prospects if the case went to trial, but given the time and preparation involved and the likelihood of appeals no matter who won, they decided it was "just wiser from a financial and time standpoint" to settle.

Tafel's lawyer, Larry Friedman, estimated that the case could have lasted four to 10 years, especially given that a judge had ordered the former president to appear at a deposition. An appeals court overturned that ruling, but Vodicka had vowed to appeal.

Vodicka and Tafel turned down $1 million apiece to drop the case in the past, according to attorneys on both sides.

"More time, more money, more aggravation and uncertainty and my client felt like he had made his point," Friedman said. "He wanted to expose the precise manner in which SMU had gone about acquiring the University Gardens property and he felt like he accomplished that."

Vodicka said he has spent more than $2 million on legal fees and expenses and estimated that SMU, with its 20 or more attorneys, spent at least $5 million in the dispute.

The lawsuit centered on SMU's acquisition of University Gardens, a run-down, 40-year-old condominium complex across the street from the university.

SMU decided at the end of 1998 to begin buying up the approximately 350 units. The school bought enough units to gain a majority of seats on the board of the homeowners association. It filled those seats with SMU employees and others affiliated with the university who did not own units or live at the complex.

The holdouts were Vodicka, who had four units, and Tafel, with a single unit.

The school bulldozed the condos in 2006. Later that year, it became apparent SMU would be the site of Bush's library. 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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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