Alley Fighting

A midlevel city attorney's ruling causes months of angst in the Heights over who has the rights to that land behind the back fences

Cheatham's opinion made waves outside the city bureaucracy, as well. Homeowners obstructing the alley with fences and other objects believed, in part, that they were protecting their land. In a notice addressed to "All Heights builders, remodelers, restorers, and people using our alleys for property or garage access," People Against The Alleys (PATA) said it "will supply property owners with the proper documents so that they may adversely possess [claim ownership of] their portion of alley behind their property." PATA claims to have been "advised" of this "right" by Don Cheatham himself.

A lawyer who chooses his words carefully and whose resume includes a stint as the city attorney of Amarillo, Cheatham does not look like a man who could inspire much emotion from complete strangers. "I've seen the man," says Gomberg, "and he's not wearing any capes."

Cheatham has become the builders' scapegoat in this four-month fiasco: Gianukos calls efforts to impede the builders' attempts to open alleyways "the Cheatham phenomenon."

"I'm not done with him," Gianukos says, "Mr. Cheatham is the one who started this whole thing."

The builders have failed, however, to convince City Council that Cheatham did anything wrong. Noting that the builder's depiction of Don Cheatham as a bad guy seemed larger than life, Councilwoman Annise Parker told Cheatham, "You were the Darth Vader of the alleyways."

Unlike the builders, the tight-lipped Cheatham seems eager to forget the confrontation sparked by his three-paragraph memo in 1997. "That was the past, and I'm ready to look forward."

To reach T.R. Coleman, e-mail him at toby_coleman@houstonpress.com.

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