By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Four years ago, in the story "Sweetheart Deal" by Rose Farley and Thomas Korosec (April 25, 2002), the Dallas Observerreported that Virginia McGuire, daughter of former Speaker of the U.S. House Jim Wright, bought an apartment complex near White Rock Lake with the intention of turning it into affordable housing where people of all incomes and walks of life would live happily ever after. McGuire formed a nonprofit called Green Bridge Development Corp. and received a small fortune in government subsidies in order to turn the Williams Run complex into a place "where dreams come true," as she sold it to various state and federal agencies in December 2000.
Turns out, all she and her husband did was wind up taking about $500,000 for themselves and skipping town, while turning Williams Run, near the Tenison Park golf course, into a nightmare for tenants and tax collectors. McGuire and her husband, Scott, are both long gone to Austin, but the problems at Williams Run are not. Indeed, three years after the first of three Observer stories about Williams Run appeared, that complex and another Green Bridge development in Richardson, Greenbridge at Buckingham, are at the center of three lawsuits, one of which has the city portraying Williams Run as a decaying mess.
In November, says Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Richie, the city went after Robert Russell, head of Placet Development Corp. --formerly Green Bridge--to deal with at least 11 code violations at Williams Run, ranging from a rotting exterior to a litany of health hazards to Russell's failure to obtain a multifamily occupancy permit. When he failed to respond, Richie says, the city filed suit in February and got a temporary injunction; Russell's taking care of the violations but will still have to deal with the civil penalties stemming from his failure to take care of the violations last year. That could cost his company as much as $1,000 per violation per day, dating back to last fall. Russell says the city sued only after a paperwork mix-up.
But Russell has more pressing and expensive issues to deal with: The Dallas Central Appraisal District no longer considers either Williams Run or Buckingham nontaxable entities. From 2001 to 2004, DCAD listed both complexes as having no taxable value, but that changed last year, after the appraisal district discovered Russell hadn't delivered the proper paperwork documenting its operation as a nonprofit community housing development. Williams Run is now on the tax rolls as an $11 million property worth $337,886 in taxes, and Buckingham's a $15 million property worth $445,733 in taxes. Actually, Dallas County tax collectors say, Russell owes much more after accruing thousands in penalties and interest.
Russell's the one suing DCAD, claiming Placet's still a nonprofit organization, which is impossible to verify since Placet hasn't filed a Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service since 2002. Russell will not say why he hasn't filed the paperwork required of nonprofits, only that he's clearing up the matter with the IRS and should have it straightened out by August 15.
Russell says he appealed the DCAD decision but wasn't notified of the March appeals hearing where the DCAD board ruled against Placet. DCAD's chief appraiser, Ken Nolan, says Russell was notified but didn't show.
"We were forced to sue them, and we expect to win the lawsuit because we've had no status change over here," Russell says. "We feel like we should keep the exemption."