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

Stephen Davis, whose grandparents settled the land that is now the Clements farm, says people in the area have always counted on the limited sewage-treatment possibilities as a barrier against dense development. "People are already cautioned not to swim, eat the fish, or certainly not to drink the water in Lake Ray Hubbard," Davis says.

But what if Dallas were to annex this pocket of land on the far side of the lake, eight miles from the eastern border of the city?

"I guess they would have to pipe the sewage across the lake somehow," Davis says.

But it could be done. All it takes is money. And, in this case, it sure wouldn't be Ray Hunt's or Bill Clements' money.

It would be yours.
For people like Miller and Davis, it's almost impossible to believe Dallas would seriously consider leap-frogging across miles of rural country to create an island of urban infrastructure in the middle of what they had always hoped was nowhere.

State law requires that a city annex only land that already touches one of its borders. But Dallas owns Lake Ray Hubbard and has a teensy strip of border just a few yards wide beside the water pipe connecting the lake, a reservoir, to the city water supply. If you look very carefully at maps, there is also a faint little line all around the edge of the lake showing that the lake is a part of Dallas. So that means the Clements property, which touches the lake, falls technically within the legal requirements for annexation.

The more interesting question is not how but why the city would want to annex.

"If it was on the west side of the lake, where Dallas almost reaches the lake, you could almost see it," Davis says. "But not here, where you're not just in another county, you're almost in a different part of the world."

In fact, this annexation would be pretty much the exact opposite of what officials have always tried to do in Houston, which is one of the nation's most aggressive annexers.

Former Houston mayor Bob Lanier used annexation to help Houston dig out of debt after the real estate depression of the late 1980s. When he was mayor, Lanier looked at annexation deals the way he had looked at real estate earlier in life when he was getting rich as a developer.

"I tried to make a profit," Lanier told the Dallas Observer.
The way he made a profit on annexations, he says, was to let the developers go in first and assume all the risk. He waited for them to put in all the streets, sewers, and other expensive stuff; waited for them to sell all the lots; and made sure all the houses and stores and industrial properties were occupied by nice, big, juicy taxpayers. Only then did Lanier come in with the city's mighty powers of annexation and take over.

Because new state laws require a city to provide basic services to any annexed area within a certain time period after annexation, Lanier says the ticket is making sure you don't annex too soon.

Sometimes new developments can contract for services with an adjacent city, but there is no community adjacent to the Clements farm capable of providing full-scale urban services. In Texas, developers can also create their own little mini-governments, called municipal utility districts, or MUDs, and sell bonds and raise money to provide their own services. But that involves much more risk for the developer.

Either way, Lanier says it makes no sense for the city to annex land where it must then become partners on a speculative new development.

"I would have declined to have the city go in and develop infrastructure first," Lanier says. "Either you make the developer pay for all that out of his pocket, or he can create a MUD and sell bonds to do it. But however it's done, I always made sure the annexation left the city in a profitable position."

For Lanier, that was the golden rule of annexation: The city takes no risk and makes lots of money.

"I would never jeopardize my profit position," he says. "I was always looking at what I had coming in and what I had going out on an annexation deal. And I would always try to pass the risk that the property either will or will not develop on to the developer."

A key difference between Lanier and the kind of leadership Dallas gets at City Hall is that, before he became mayor, Lanier had played and won against the big boys on the battlefields of business. Dallas' top leaders--Mayor Ron Kirk and City Manager John Ware--have always worked for the big boys, rather than being of their rank.

Jerry Wood, a Houston city planner, was not always Lanier's biggest fan, but gives him grudging respect for knowing how to handle bumptious developers.

"People made the mistake when Lanier came in of thinking that, since he had been a developer, he would play footsy with the developers," Wood says. "But Lanier had screwed other developers when he was a developer. When he was mayor, Lanier screwed the developers some more. Bob Lanier just likes to win."

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