Raw deal

If John Ware, Ray Hunt, and Bill Clements have their way, Dallas taxpayers may foot the bill for turning 2,200 acres of Kaufman County lakefront property into a golf course

On his way out the door, departing City Manager John Ware is setting up a sweetheart tax-dollar giveaway to former Governor Bill Clements and oilman Ray Hunt that will make his Trinity River and sports-arena deals look like sound government policy.

Impossible? Consider this: Clements and Hunt, both hugely wealthy men more than capable of paying their own way, want Ware to use city of Dallas tax dollars to help create a speculative real estate development in rural Kaufman County, almost 20 miles east of downtown Dallas.

If the moguls get their way--and what's to stop them?--Dallas taxpayers will suddenly be on the hook to provide water, sewers, street lights, a fire station, a police station, garbage pickup, and every other normal city service for what is now a remote corner of rural Kaufman County.

This, in a city that is $3.2 billion behind in the provision of basic maintenance for existing neighborhoods.

The city council--which has proven it can't count money and listen to someone talk fast at the same time--will be told that this is a good deal for Dallas. By "annexing" the former governor's baronial farm at the southern foot of Lake Ray Hubbard, the story will go, Dallas will be able to "grow the tax base."

In other words, for the privilege of shouldering most of the expense and risk of the development, Dallas will acquire a remote but affluent enclave that it will then be able to tax.

The problem with this line of reasoning, according to people who actually know anything about annexation, is that it's upside-down and backward, and it won't fly. It's the opposite of how cities that do a lot of annexing arrange their business. It won't pay off. And it runs the risk of leaving Dallas taxpayers holding a big, fat bag of debt.

In other words, a typical John Ware deal.

Bill Clements, whose political career was destroyed by revelations of his involvement in the 1980s SMU football bribery scandal, owns a 2,200-acre horse and cattle farm where a corner of Kaufman County nicks the bottom of Lake Ray Hubbard. The farm, where Clements' son lives, lies between the towns of Heath and Forney in the general Interstate 20-Lake Ray Hubbard corridor made infamous in the Roaring '80s by Danny Faulkner, king of the fast-talking, land-flipping, note-floating condo scams.

In recent years, the area around Forney has become a haven for fed-up persons of wealth. Gently rolling, well watered, sparsely inhabited, it's a great place for horses and make-believe farms.

The area around the Clements farm is especially pretty and has attracted the eye of more than just rich people. Hovering at the skirts of the former governor's property are the bohemian cottages of an array of artists, writers, antique-car restorers, and other oddball nonconformists.

The people who live near the farm are smart enough to see what's coming and why. Some of them have already put up protest signs by their mailboxes saying things like, "NO TO GREED. NO TO DALLAS."

"The whole thing is so absurd, I can't even conceive of the city even thinking about doing this," says Buddy Miller, a composer who lives in a faded blue two-story farmhouse just down the road from one of the Clements manor houses.

Miller and his neighbors think it's obvious why Clements and his co-adventurer, Ray Hunt, would like to see the annexation take place. Urban infrastructure will put the developers in position to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in profit that wouldn't be possible without the generous help of Dallas taxpayers.

Clements is asking Dallas to eat 2,200 acres total, but probably only a small portion of that land is usable for any kind of serious development. The rest of it is in the floodplain of the East Fork of the Trinity River.

"That's the interesting thing," Miller says. "All the stuff behind the [Lake Ray Hubbard] dam on the Mesquite side of the area floods like crazy. If the levee breaks, which it has a couple of times, there are some homes out there that flood."

In recent years, Clements has been buying up land that is above the floodplain. "He's purchased all of it, except for mine and a neighbor's," Miller says. Most of that land, before Clements bought it, was in what Miller calls "Raunchy Ranchettes"--parcels of five to 10 acres occupied by large families with multiple guard dogs.

The problem for anybody who wants to ratchet up the value of the land by squeezing in more houses is that all of those raunchy ranchettes are on septic tanks. Current federal and state environmental rules require that any new development in which the lots are smaller than one acre must be served by a real sewer system.

There are a couple of small sewer systems not too far from the Clements farm, one in Heath that was built to accommodate a school and another more robust one in Rockwall. But they are served by treatment plants that already empty into Lake Ray Hubbard. The question is how much "effluent" Lake Ray Hubbard can take.

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