To Build Joppa Gateway Park, the City Will Have to Battle One of Its Most Notorious Slumlords

The Joppa Gateway is one of those half dozen parks included in the city's Trinity River Corridor Project that will provide access to the wetlands and horse parks and other amenities that are being built. Located near the junction of Interstate 45 and Loop 12 ... er, ahem ... Great Trinity Forest Way ... in the neighborhood of the same name, the plan is to take the existing park on Fellows Street, double it in size and add a spray ground, parking for horse trailers and a trail head with a great view of the lower chain of wetlands.

See also:
- How the Slumlord Beats the City Every Time

The project got $1.2 million in funding as part of the 2006 bond package. The intervening six years were spent drafting plans, holding community meetings and otherwise jumping through the bureaucratic hoops necessary to get work started, which the city is just about ready to do.

First, though, the city has to acquire a couple of acres from surrounding landowners. A couple of the parcels are empty, but a couple contain houses. And one of those houses belongs to Dennis Topletz.

A bit of background is in order here. Topletz's family owns hundreds of run-down properties in Dallas. An Observer story from 1999 described his business and how he had managed, according to his attorney, to duck 9,000 code citations, paying on only one or two.

He settled a lawsuit with the city two years later, agreeing to pay $39,750 for outstanding code violations, but his reputation didn't improve. He was the focus of one of the editorials on the city's north-south income gap that won the Morning News the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.

Needless to say, the house Topletz owns on Fellows Street is not his $3 million Inwood Road mansion. It's valued on the tax rolls at $10,000 . City staff must have felt they were being more than generous when they decided (subject to approval by the City Council on October 10) to offer Topletz $19,000.

Not so, he says.

Topletz purchased the property last November for, according to him, $10,000. About a month later, someone from the city came around to tell him that he would have to sell to make way for the park. He wasn't opposed to selling per se, but he had already put $15,000 painting the house inside and out, installing new wiring and new cabinets and otherwise fixing the house. Plus, he had a renter who was interested in buying the home.

Simply put, Topletz says, $19,000 isn't enough. He expects $25,000, at a minimum.

"They should give me a little bit of something for getting it up to code," he said.

That offer's not on the table, and the city will likely move forward with condemnation proceedings instead. That process can stretch on for months. That's not something Topletz is likely to shy away from.

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This is hardly damning evidence, but if you look at the donors list at you'll notice that Dennis Topletz is a contributor (in the cheapie section). So is Aaron Kaufmann, the City's housing court judge. May not mean anything, but religious institution affiliation was enough to get one city department director fired a few months ago, right?

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