By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
He learned that the corps spends about $64,000 a year mowing the grass, picking up trash, and making minor repairs -- costs that would fall to the town or Blue Sky under the new arrangement.
He also learned that the corps would require the town to show it has adequate financial resources independent of any fees or subleases from Blue Sky to keep the place up. It would need, according to the corps memo he received, a "full-time park and recreation staff responsible for operating and maintaining the leased [park]" -- which it currently does not have.
On June 16, Dyson also made an open-records request to Hickory Creek for Blue Sky's business plan and written correspondence with the city -- an inquiry Hickory Creek's attorney sent to the Texas Attorney General's Office for a legal opinion. Dyson is still waiting for his documents.
Residents Diane Ciarloni and her husband, John Woodrum, who don't want "our city government cramming things down our throat," met with Brody in late June, after they spoke up at several city council meetings and he searched them out. "He [Brody] said he intended to meet with every person who is against this project and change their minds. That's how confident he is," says Ciarloni. "And he is g-o-o-o-d. He was in sales, and he has this face that's a cross between John Denver and I don't know who. You don't know why you want to be so harsh with this guy."
During their talk, they say, Brody disclosed that the Burn's lease payment to him would be almost enough to cover his approximately $6,200 monthly payment on his Small Business Administration loan. He said he expected to pay Hickory Creek at least $1,000 a month, more if Blue Sky became profitable, Ciarloni recalls.
Like a lot of people who lived in Hickory Creek during the 1989-1990 Lewisville Lake floods, Ciarloni and her husband also wondered how he could build in a park that has been under water twice in the past decade. Brody told them that he planned to raise his proposed 30,000-square-foot metal building one foot above the 100-year flood level -- the imaginary line used to delineate where flood waters reach an average of once every 100 years. That way, the outdoor fields would flood and the building would not.
Ciarloni and other critics wondered how Brody could remain in business, however, with his building, parking lots, and other facilities inundated in murky, debris-laden water, which in past floods had taken months to recede. Brody conceded there is a chance that some of his operations would be hampered -- in the rare event of a 100-year flood -- but not enough to ruin the business.
Brody went on to list his sweeteners -- the promise to maintain the park for five years, the two public baseball fields, the bike path along the entry road. But the couple says they couldn't believe Brody could keep all his promises and run a profitable business.
"He has this habit," Ciarloni says. "He wants you to believe. He's a promoter who knows what should be coming out of his mouth. I don't think he's hardcore trying to mislead, but he makes a lot of promises."
Like the one about the dog.
"At one point we were talking, and it came out that I used to raise chocolate Labs," says Woodrum. "He told me his dog Kelly was chewing, and I gave him a tip on how to keep Kelly from chewing. Peter said he was going to keep the dog around the place when it opened and that she was pregnant. He says, 'John, I promise you one.' And I thought, 'I'm gonna lose a dog, because I'm not changing my mind about Blue Sky.'"
Meanwhile, Nita and Gary Van Cleave -- bird-watchers who love the park in its current, mostly wild state -- began circulating a petition. "The traffic in the neighborhood would be awful," says Nita, who has taken in a stray iguana and two lame grackles, giving her house the feeling of an animal-rescue shelter.
What galled her husband, Gary, about the project was the fact that a majority of residents appeared to him to be against it, but that the council was plowing forward with negotiations anyway. Of the 43 people who spoke at the big public meeting at the high school on July 14, only 24 were city residents. Of those, the breakdown was 15 against and nine for.
Because of Hickory Creek's city charter, referendum and recall elections are not allowed. So Gary, an air-traffic controller, and Nita went to work. They set up their own Web site titled "Hickory Creek, Texas: The Only Town in America Without Representation."
It included links to texts of proponents' speeches, opinion polls, and information on how to join the opposition. The Van Cleaves helped organize a rally in the sun-blasted parking lot of King Bros. Boat Storage. They showed up with a rack of "No Blue Sky" T-shirts, which they sold for their $5 cost, and began gathering signatures from what seemed to be a decidedly older crowd.
Randy King -- who himself made inquiries this spring about expanding his operation into a parcel of Westlake Park, which adjoins his boatyard -- says the soccer traffic could only hurt business, so he took out an advertisement in the local paper, The Lake Cities Sun. The part of the ad copy that really riled Brody and company wasn't the warning about "higher tax liability" or "crowded streets" or the "possible permanent park closing." It was the part about the little-discussed history of Blue Sky and the warning that "four other cities have already said no."