by Max Brantley
A long-running battle over a long-contested piece of property in Hillcrest took a surprising turn tonight.
The governing board for the state schools for the Blind and Deaf voted tonight to revoke its 99-year lease with Easter Seals for the building that once served as an Easter Seals training center at the east end of Lee Avenue, across a wooded draw from the school campuses.
Neighborhood opposition earlier defeated an effort by Easter Seals to sell the building and transfer the ground lease to a local businessman for offices. Neighbors say the building is asbestos-riddled and incompatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood. Easter Seals has been trying to make some money out of it for years after moving to new quarters.
A proposal to try to mediate the dispute failed on a 3-2 vote. The Board then voted to revoke the lease, with 90 days notice, and to take over responsibility for the land and building. Easter Seals is obligated under the lease to provide services to students there, but hasn't for years. Nonetheless, it is expected to fight the revocation in hopes of winning some financial reward.
In the wings is an offer by Stephens Inc. executive Doug Martin, a Hillcrest resident, to buy the roughly 10 acres for $1 million, with about half devoted to demolition, and give over most of the acreage to continued natural forest. He'd build a single-family house on the remaining property.