So Is "Grow South" About Helping the People or Just the Real Estate?

Categories: Schutze

Here's a question about the big initiative to spur development and employment in the city's heavily poor and minority southern hemisphere. Does it really benefit southern Dallas to redevelop it if before you do so you manage to get all the land out of the hands of the people who own it now?

We're trying to make conditions better for what? Just the real estate? Or the people?

skyline_ranch.jpg
Robert Pitre's ranch, just down the street from the new UNT Southern Dallas campus

Whether it's true or not (I've never seen a study), common belief in Dallas is that white mayors 40 years ago bought bare dirt land north of the city, browbeat Dallas into annexing it and then screwed the city into providing all the infrastructure -- water, sewer, cops, firehouses -- needed to create the swimming pool and golf course megalopolises up there now.

We know for sure that a couple of them, Mayors Robert Folsom (1977-81) and Starke Taylor (1983-87) bought a lot of land up there. We know the city annexed the land they bought. We don't know how much the mayors paid versus how much the city paid to turn a bunch of burnt-over cotton patch into the endless Trophy Estates Rolling Meadow Mountain Crest mess that's up there today.

Lately there has been endless hooplah from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and interminable blah-blah-blah from The Dallas Morning News about something called "Grow South," an initiative to do for southern Dallas what somebody did for that northern cotton patch four decades ago -- make it happen. That is, bring in the infrastructure needed to make development possible.

But unlike that cotton patch the mayors bought back in the day, southern Dallas is already inside the city limits. So how much can they need? Oh, you wouldn't believe how much they need. Few Americans accustomed to living in cities would believe it.

I have been talking over the last year or so to landowners who hold large parcels just west of the handsome new campus of University of North Texas at the intersection of East Camp Wisdom Road and University Hills Drive (Houston School Road) eight miles due south of downtown. Among the things they do not have anywhere near their entire region of Dallas are water and sewerage.

In 2005 when the new campus was under construction, UNT expressed its wish that the city would take advantage of some scheduled roadwork and existing bond money and bring water and sewers to the campus. But for reasons nobody ever really explained at the time, the city tore up Houston School Road and rebuilt it without putting new sewer and water pipes under it at that time. UNT had to go the other direction and some distance to find a sewer connection and water.

Now the city is sitting on $5 million in bond money passed for the express purpose of bringing water and sewers to this long-neglected portion of the city. But in spite of all the talk about "Grow South," City Hall refuses to bring utilities into the area west of the UNT campus to put it on an equal footing with the rest of the city.

I attended a meeting last week where DART, our regional transit agency, unveiled plans for what's supposed to be a snazzy new train station at UNT. But in response to questions, DART officials conceded they will have to put the new train station on a septic tank system, because there are no city sewer lines anywhere close enough for a connection.

Landowners at the meeting accused DART of playing footsie with the city by not demanding the city bring a sewer line to some point within a reasonable distance of the station. "You never build streets six lanes without putting basic infrastructure in the roadway," said Robert Pitre, owner of Skyline Ranch near the UNT campus. "The city of Dallas did that. They did it on purpose. They knew what they were doing. The conspiracy now is to keep basic infrastructure from the DART station to keep the owners of the land from being able to connect to it."

But why on earth would the city want go to such lengths to keep infrastructure out of an entire region? Why would the city tear up a major thoroughfare and rebuild it with no pipes underneath, knowing how much more expensive it will be to tear it up and do it all over again later, especially given that the presence of the new UNT campus makes major redevelopment of the area inevitable?

City councilman Tennell Atkins, who represents the 8th district in that area, has a not totally unreasonable answer. He says now is not the time. At some point, Atkins says, a developer will show up with a credible plan for the entire area. But before that developer shows up with a plan, Atkins says, it would be a mistake for the city to put in pipes.

"If you are sitting there with property saying, 'Bring me my water and sewer line,' that might be the wrong water line, the wrong sewer line in the wrong direction, whatever," he says. "We need a plan."

Pitre believes the city is withholding basic infrastructure to keep land values low so that some favored party can come in, vulture up the land for cheap and reap the profits when the city finally puts in the pipes. In the meantime, he says, the city is deliberately shutting down any development potential.

He says any developer he has ever talked to always asks one thing first: "They say, 'Where is the sewer line?'" When developers find out there is no basic infrastructure near enough to make an urban-scale development viable, they fade away, Pitre says. "They say, 'No, no, I'm not interested.'"

The only way to jump-start the area for urban development, he says, is to make it urban by putting in major urban infrastructure.

"The city already has the money," he says. "They know the viability of what that community could become in the development around that campus and around that DART station. It's simple to go ahead and do it. They already put it in the bond program for that. So why not go ahead and put it out there? What's your reason for not putting it out there?

Other land owners in the area agree. They say they have been pleading fruitlessly with City Hall for decades to give the area the same basic sewer and water pipes that other parts of Dallas enjoy.

"I was at a City Hall meeting when Laura Miller was still the mayor [2002-07]," said Rebecca Sneed, another longtime owner west of the campus. "I asked her about it. She said, 'Oh, I didn't know there wasn't sewer out there.' She said, 'I'll get back with you about it.' I never heard anything."

Pitre, Sneed and other owners have a lot to gain financially if basic infrastructure comes anywhere near them. They are sitting on land purchased decades ago at rural values on which they have been paying low taxes compared with rates in more urban parts of the city. Both of them were frank in telling me that if somebody stands to reap a big profit on their land thanks to city action, they'd like to be that somebody.

Sneed said, "When my dad purchased all this land, I'm sure that was his thought, to make a profit on it."

Seems fair to me. You sit on land for decades, pay the taxes, mow the weeds, do something about the trespassers and so on. Then if a big ship is about to come in, you hope to be there to meet it.

Atkins says they can all be there. All they have to do is wait. But Pitre smells a scam. He thinks Atkins and City Hall are waiting out the current owners, withholding infrastructure that's already funded in hopes the current owners will sell at the existing low values. Then someone of City Hall's choosing can come in and have a big payday.


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44 comments
SocraticGadfly
SocraticGadfly

Maybe South Dallas could be asked to be annexed by Lancaster. And, where the hell is Royce West? I guess after his UNT-Dallas baby was born, he didn't give a further fuck? Maybe he's trying to help JWP beat down the Allen Group so Perot will develop this area?

mcdallas
mcdallas

One side of mouth: "Education is critically important!"

Other side of mouth: "We can't afford water and sewer THERE!"

kduble
kduble

I don't know why sewer is an issue for DART. DART doesn't provide toilets at rail stations as a matter of policy. Rather, could the issue involve storm water instead? Sewer is different from storm water. Sewer is piped to a waste water treatment plant, but storm water goes directly to the nearest creek.

onelife
onelife

COUNCILMAN ATKIN STATED THAT THE CITY OF DALLAS WOULD NOT KNOW HOW THE INFRASTRUCTURE SHOULD RUN FOR FUTURE DEVELOPMENT AROUND UNT-DALLAS AREA "WELL LET ME TELL HIM" THERE IS A EXISTING 27 INCH SEW LINE ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF CAMP WISDOM RD.THAT WOULD CONTINUE TO RUN SOUTHWEST TO THE NEW UNT-DALLAS STATION. THE LANDOWNERS IS NOT ASKING THE CITY OF DALLAS TO RUN BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE  FOR THEM, IT WOULD BE FOR DARTS NEW RIDERSHIP TO HAVE RESTROOMS AT THE UNT-DALLAS STATION! COUNCILMAN ATKIN IS TRYING TO CONFUSE THE PUBLIC ON THE CITY OF DALLAS NEGATIVE ROLE. I TALKED TO A ENGINEER ABOUT THE CITY OF DALLAS NOT PUTTING A SEW-LINE IN UNIVERSITY HILLS RD, HE STATED THAT IT IS UNBELIEVABLE, BECAUSE NO OTHER CITY IN AMERICA WOULD DO THAT!  

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

Last month Vonciel Hill publicly said that Atkins was an "economic genius" when it came to development deals. I would advise that we all keep that statement in mind as this story progresses.

hillmanmuh
hillmanmuh

I was at the meeting Jim is speaking about but no one from the city of Dallas was, to spend so much money on a project like that and not put in the needed infrastructure is suspect! But ever more suspect is why was no city officials  there to answer the tough questions that was needed to be answer!!  Questions like the city of Dallas is creating a situation to move the land owners out for low price on their land, I too smell SCAM, which is not the first time the power of racism has been unleashed on Black land-owners!!!

markzero
markzero

Wow, he won't even promote his constituents' interests:


 "If you are sitting there with property saying, 'Bring me my water and sewer line,' that might be the wrong water line, the wrong sewer line in the wrong direction, whatever," he says. "We need a plan."


In other words, City of Dallas doesn't know what it wants, wants someone to tell it what to do, but not the actual property owners with their worthless plans. What would they know about making use of their land?


Seems like Dallas City council prefers the grasping, flashy but temporary attentions of glamorous hustlers here to take what they can and leave, instead of the earnest attentions of suitors intending to mate for life.


Tennell and the rest: you're holding the economic future of other people hostage for a vision you're waiting for someone else to have. Get out of the way if you're not capable of vision and leadership, yourselves.

onelife
onelife

If you talk to any city in America's Public Works Department and ask them would you build a 6-lane, 5 million dollar road with out putting BASIC infrastructure in. Their answer would be, NO. Racism is the reason the city of Dallas did not put infrastructure in the road (University Hills Rd ) in front of UNT campus. The city's position was to not put a sewer line in the road, to keep the African American landowners from being able to develop their property, and to also keep their land value LOW. 

Someone tell me, "Why would the city of Dallas build a new road (University Hills Rd.) and not put the needed sewer line in?" Knowing that later, the city would have to come back and tear up the road to put the necessary infrastructure in for future development of the land in front of the college.


I'll tell you why... I'ts because 95 percent of the land in front of UNT campus is owned by African Americans. The land that UNT campus currently sits on, the city paid 3 million dollars and donated it to the State of Texas to build UNT Dallas. For the college to continue to grow, it needs commercial development NOW!

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

don't have the utility maps to validate, but water and sanitary sewer services appear to be existing along Camp Wisdom, both east and west of Houston School. Utilities also appear to exist along Wheatland, too....

Cities do provide the extension of these utilities to new developments, for a price...no free lunches..

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

Am I the only one cynical enough to ask whether this property would be bought at farm prices for whatever idiotic city-financed get-rich-quick scheme is afoot, or if it would just be taken under "eminent domain"?

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Sounds like them folks need to hire themselves some "consultants" and bring in some "equity partners" ...

Guesty
Guesty

I'm not sure if I should care if the current owners or future owners benefit from infrastructure spending.  Current owners pay low taxes, meaning they don't pay enough to cover the improvements they are demanding.  But they want the windfall from the infrastructure so they can sell to developers at huge profits (note that none seem interested in doing anything themselves to improve the area, and they all bought at a discount because there was no infrastructure at the time).  Under those circumstances, I can see the city saying they will wait until there is a use that justifies the expense rather than pouring money in and hoping that the use matches what they spend the money on.  If nothing else, it gives the city some leverage in directing development.


That being said, I do have a question.  How much would this infrastructure benefit residents?  By that, I mean does any of this have any real effect on someone who owns a small home or business?  Or are we talking about the type of infrastructure that really only benefits large scale development?  If we are depriving common home owners of infrastructure that directly benefits them and is commonly available elsewhere in the city, that is another story. 

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

I've just now been watching the city council meeting discussing the proposed $250,000 contract with Allyn Media to help promote growSouth. Let's talk about former Dallas Observer writer Sam Merten, who used to work for Allyn who is now working for the mayor.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh reeeeeeeeallllly?

LaKeesha
LaKeesha

South, is where the grows grow ;)

finley5
finley5

Of course "Grow South" is about the land. Which is why "Grow South" should more precisely be called, "Grow North", because the rich to-do-ers from the North are coming to take their land. But only after, they figure out how to deal with the mess City Hall has caused by creating a massive ghetto in South Dallas. The investors from the North are very weary of the black/crime/ghetto/ South Dallas is, created by City Hall over decades...............Now City Hall is stuck........cant use federal dollars to bail-'em out, cant get investors to deal with that mess in South Dallas..............one huge nightmare..............created by City Hall...........and no where to run.................

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Isn't part of the deal of being inside the city limits access to city utilities?

They should secede into another HP/UP (island cities in the city), set up a MUD, and become new entities with their own taxing power, and zoning power.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

"We need a plan..." jackasses. Building roads without infrastrcture IS in fact a plan. A flawed, idiotic, shortsided, cynical, and expensive one; but a plan nonetheless.

This is the same mentality driving the HUD scamming.

Connect the dots! That is, show the people with fingers in each plan.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Sneed said, "When my dad purchased all this land, I'm sure that was his thought, to make a profit on it."

Someone did . And it was whoever sold it to her Dad  .

Catbird
Catbird

@onelife Maybe that's some of it but more likely it's "Park Cities Greed"...not sayin' race has nothing to do with it 'cause it might but I think greed is probably the more complete answer. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@mavdog

Cities do not provide free lunches? Where did you get that idea? In 2005, Ray Hunt already had his new headquarters building on Woodall Rogers in pre-construction, platted, designed, scraped, ready to bring in the steel, when City hall gave him $6.3 million in incentives to build it. http://www.dallasobserver.com/2006-02-16/news/sugar-ray/full/

Let me make sure you get this: The guy's already building it. He asks for a $6.3 million incentive to build it, which is actually a $6.3 million birthday present. City Hall says sure, here 'tis, Ray, don't spend it all on one vacation. 

But now we shift down to Southern Dallas, and the city can't even bring sewer to an area because the landowners there might not be fully deserving of sewer.

You're kiddin' me, right? 

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@Guesty you should care. the money is there. it is allocated into a bond package. we have borrowed that bond money and we are paying interest on it. it isn't "free money". the sooner we spend the money that's been allocated, the sooner we will start to see a return on it, rather than funding the carrying costs of the bonds with no increase in income. I also don't mind the crony capitalism quite as much for deals that are "luxuries" (don't get me wrong, it still really angers me) but when you are talking about denying basic city services like sanitation so some friends can make money, you've got a huge problem in my book.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Cities have typically installed utilities (sewer, water and roads) in order to promote development.  The bonds issued for the utility capital improvements were paid off by the increased ad valorem revenues as the area was developed.


These days, the problem of utility infrastructure is handled by other means such as a TIF or an ad valorem tax abatement.  The concept of both is still that development in the area pays for the capital cost of the city utility infrastructure.


It was less used in this area than the Houston area and that is the concept of a Municipal Utility District or MUD.

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

DallasDrilling - Allyn Media has long been a go-to firm for the City of Dallas to market and promote civic initiatives. That sexpot Carol Reed's firm is another agency. I can assure you that Merten's short tenure had nothing to do with the selection of Allyn.

Lorlee
Lorlee

And for $250,000, they are going to do what????  The people who make money are the unending list of "consultants".  Do we ever have any followup to determine if we got any bang for the buck.  


I served once on a Housing Study -- and jokingly said we could have built more houses with the paper we wasted.  I quit participating in Fair Park studies because they just sit on the shelf.  The City just has public participation for show, they have already decided what we think. 

Lorlee
Lorlee

Not everything south of I30 is a ghetto.  Lots of nice neighborhoods and good people.  Please don't tar everyone with the same brush until you have actually ever driven there.  


That said, the idea that the City won't provide basic services is the real crime. 

Guesty
Guesty

@Montemalone How would they pay for their infrastructure without the tax base north of I-30?  It's one thing to pay for your own projects when land is taxed at a value of $2,000,000 an acre, it's another thing altogether when land is taxed at a value of $2,000 an acre.    

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@JimSX

no Jim, the Hunt incentive package is not a "free lunch", as Hunt Consolidated pays about $2.6 Million a year in taxes to the City and DISD even after the Council granted the abatement request.

I'm not going to argue the point if Hunt Consolidated merited the tax abatement package they received. The one fact that anyone needs to consider with these incentive packages is the taxing authority that grants the incentives is agreeing to lessen the income from the project, not remove it. There ARE taxes paid, more often than not much more being paid than existed before the package was approved.

"not fully deserving of sewer"? come on, you're better than that.

the question that should be asked is what is existing, what are the needs of the existing users, and is that being met? as far as future development, as I said that typically is partially borne by the developer. the developer invest the $ to get paid a profit by the user.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@mavdog

As for your question on sewer, I don't know what you're looking at, all I know is that DART and the landowners and the city all agree there is no sewer for vast tracts of land in this area.

Guesty
Guesty

@Tipster1908 @Guesty You assume that doing the improvements now results in the same return on investment as you would get if you held out for a development plan, but I'm not so sure.  It sounds like the current property owners wouldn't be spending any money to tie into things like septic, but would simply sit on their land and entertain increased offers from developers.  But I'm sure most of the current property owners would still hold out until after the anticipated first wave of development to further increase their property values.  So the land may lay dormant for a very long time after you improve the infrastructure as the property owners and the developers wait for the other to blink.  Conversely, if the city makes it clear that they don't care who is doing the developing (current owners or buyers) but that there must be some development plan in place before they spend the money, there is an incentive for someone to invest in development.  In other words, you use the infrastructure money as a carrot to encourage development rather than spending it and hoping that development follows. 


That doesn't excuse crony capitalism, and services shouldn't be denied to keep prices low for a particular buyer.  And I'm still not sure about this denial of basic city services and how it actually affects homeowners, etc.  Your response doesn't seem to address that question.  

Gangy
Gangy

Maybe his time at Allyn had to do with the mayor's selection of Merten.

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

Lorlee - It's probably a retainer fee (1 year? 2 years?) for media relations and overall marketing to target constituencies (i.e. developers, businesses) who may invest in South Dallas. 

Question for you. What percentage is $250k of the overall Dallas budget? And if you disagree with using an outside firm, do you think it should be done in-house instead? Or do you simply disagree with promoting and marketing GrowSouth?

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

Most people do not realize that the land below the Trinity is the most beautiful in all of DFW. I wish I had figured that out years ago.

jobe3
jobe3

The problem is, when you have a socially engineered cancer, it metastizes to healthy areas. Which is the reason for the obsession of being as far away from it as possible. I am sure there are plenty of "good people" there.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

How do you think all these far flung exurban SFR developments came to be?

The development that occurs after the infrastructure installation more than recoups the cost, and the end user pays for it.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@mavdog @JimSX

Development costs cities money. It also pays cities money. The hope is that what it pays will cover and maybe be a little more than what it costs. Blindly carving off chunks of a tax obligation and handing it back is not a fiscally sound idea. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@JimSX

Jim, there is sewer and water within a mile, more than likely from looking at an aerial within 1/2 mile, of the UNT campus.

The analogy with Hunt et al is more along the lines of this:
He owes ten bucks in taxes. He says I will invest $$$ if you don't make me pay more than the ten bucks I already have to pay. eventually I will pay you thirty bucks, but not for awhile. So while he doesn't "put five bucks in [his] pockets" he is saving many, many bucks until the incentive package runs out.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@mavdog @JimSX

No developer would develop if he had to build five miles of main. The absence of main within any reasonable proximity is a major disincentive to all development. Yes developers connect to the city mains. But, no, developers do not build city mains.

As for Hunt: he owes ten bucks in taxes. You owe ten buck in taxes. You both pay. But the city gives Hunt back five bucks and not you. The city just gave Hunt a five dollar birthday present. If I owe you ten bucks and you say, "Make it five," you just put five bucks in my pocket. You get that, right?   

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@JimSX

from the City of Dallas website:

New Subdivisions:

Developers requesting a main extension or replacement will be required to construct the main. Contact the City of Dallas subdivision coordinator at 320 E. Jefferson, Room 218. The telephone number is (214) 948-4590

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

"We?" I don't believe that "we" get anything directly - at least immediately. Long term, GrowSouth encourages business investment, which would lead to property taxes, which means more revenue for the city of Dallas.


The City of Dallas would be the immediate benefactor of Allyn's services. I would imagine those services would include, but are not limited to a branding strategy; marketing collateral; media relations like editorial and story placement; planning/executing speaking engagements etc, etc.That's usually what a public affairs company would do, anyway. Like I said, it's probably a retainer fee, so it could be used any number of ways.

I'm not part of the OC Chamber or have any affiliation.



Lorlee
Lorlee

Robert -- so tell me what we are getting?  Doesn't matter what percentage of the budget it is if you aren't getting any benefit.  I am not sure that Allyn & Co brings to this table. 


And isn't marketing what you guys do at the OC Chamber? 

Lorlee
Lorlee

All too often that obsession is based on perceptions which have no basis in fact. 

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