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DALLAS It's a small strip of land that could have major legal significance.

On the edge of the Dallas convention center hotel construction project, a single landowner is refusing to sell a tiny plot that the city wants, and it could lead to a Texas-sized legal showdown.

Like progress on steroids, people are noticing as the 1,200-room hotel rises from what was a parking lot not too long ago.

What they may not notice is a little break in the fence line and a tiny tract of land at 808 Young Street that juts into the massive hotel property.

It's not part of the project, so it's been fenced out.

What's wrong with this picture?

The City of Dallas wants the 2,500 square foot property to be part of the city-owned hotel, but the landowner doesn't want to sell.

This is the kind of case that could be decided by the Texas Supreme Court, said property-rights attorney J. Clint Schumacher of the Locke Lord law firm.

That's because there's a new state law that limits government's eminent domain power to force a landowner to sell.

Here's the central question: Is the convention center hotel and surrounding area considered a public use space?

What would typically be considered a 'public use' is something the public can use, Schumacher said. A street; a highway; a school.

The city can condemn land for public use, and the City Council has authorized that move, if that's what it comes to. But it cannot take land for an economic development project.

You just don't see a situation like this very often, Schumacher said.

An attorney for property owner Carolyn McClain declined to comment. Her lawyer has, however, told the city, Ms. McClain has 83 years left on a lease agreement on her property with former Dallas Mayor Robert Folsom for use as a parking lot.

McClain still stands to collect at least $3.2 million in rent.

The Dallas Central Appraisal District says McClain's land is worth $137,000; the city has offered $297,000.

It doesn't take an MBA to see why she doesn't want to sell.

Until the city either meets or beats what they would get under contract, there's no reason for them to sell, Schumacher said.

The city says the land could be used for paths, driveways, or even green space, but officials declined to be interviewed on this subject. But when it comes to McClain's lucrative lease, Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers issued this statement:

Merely because one individual may be paying an inflated price to lease that property does not mean that it represents fair market value. The City is required by law to pay the owner the fair market value of the property.

If there's a lawsuit, the hotel will likely have been open for years before the dispute is settled. By that time, perhaps someone will find a use for the disputed property that makes sense.

It's the perfect size for a hot dog stand.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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