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Asked why this information was needed, Morris says, "We never asked for that. I'm the one that has been directing all of this for a couple of years now." The Dallas Observer obtained copies of the contract, however, which asked for names and Social Security numbers for all family members.
Morris and Scott place the blame on Von Buren. Morris says Von Buren's prices for each property—more than $700,000 each—are more appropriate for downtown Manhattan. "Bless his heart, he's trying to earn his retirement on these poor people," she says.
"I even offered him—because I really wanted these properties and I really tried hard—the amount of the commission that he would have earned at the higher price," Morris says.
Peggy Santmyer, an accredited instructor in Texas for real estate legal and ethics issues, says she's not sure if offers like this are typical, but this is the first time she's heard of such a thing. "That would certainly be a breach of that broker's fiduciary duties to their client," she says.
Von Buren says he has been as cooperative as he can with Harwood, but as for the offer to pay him a higher commission to sell out his clients, he says, "A lot of Realtors might have jumped at the offer, but I wouldn't be able to sleep at night."
Harwood's latest tactic was to seek rezoning for land abutting three of the remaining four properties. Harwood sought to reduce the side and rear setbacks to 10 feet, which would allow the company to build its high-rise tight against the houses. The developer also sought permission to erect two 500-square-foot video screens, which could have been placed facing the backyards of the houses. The city's Department of Development Services was not in favor of any video screens, according to Jennifer Hiromoto, a senior planner in the department. The staff also recommended the setbacks be 20 feet.
Art Moreno claims the homeowners were railroaded at the January 10 City Plan Commission meeting and the outcome was already determined. In fact, the setbacks were changed to favor Harwood even more than it was asking, allowing the developer to build right up to the property line next to the De La Garza home. The commissioners agreed to allow the two video boards.
Commissioner Neil Emmons says he attempted to meet with the families before the hearing. Only two of the family spokesmen, De La Garza and Moreno, say they were contacted by him. Emmons says the greater good of the 5,000 new residents and grocery store that Harwood is bringing in must be weighed against the property owners. Emmons says the zoning will affect the remaining houses, but the families' opposition to the zoning is only a way to increase the sales price on their properties.
"They're not defending their community; they're defending their bankbook," Emmons says. "It doesn't carry the same moral weight as someone who was born there, lived there, wants to die there and wants to raise generations on the land."
The City Council will decide on the zoning February 13.