Dallas City Council Wants to Know What It Did With 4.5 Million of Your Dollars

Categories: Schutze

Lancaster_Road.jpg
Land across Lancaster Road from the VA Hospital is real expensive when we're the ones paying for it.
OK, I'd like to fill you in on what I've just found out here, but I'm exhausted from the investigative effort. It would help if you were here to fan me. But, no, you're not, as usual, so I will have to do my best on my own.

Last week at City Council, several council members demanded to know what the hell was going on with a subsidized housing development called Patriots Crossing across Lancaster Road from the Veterans Administration Hospital five miles due south of downtown. They have demanded an investigation and accounting, the results of which should be in the paperwork they get next Friday. But I couldn't wait.

Five years ago the city gave a developer named Yigal Lelah something between $4 million and $5 million (or in City Hall parlance, $4.5 million give or take a mil') to buy several acres of land across from the hospital. And when I say, "gave," I mean gave, as in handed over.

Lelah was going to build a kind of Ritz Carlton NorthPark Shangri La Carmel-type deal there in cooperation with the hospital, because, you know, those sick veterans do like to partaaay! But then, after he had spent all the money acquiring the land, it turned out Lelah had failed to secure the cooperation of the Veterans Administration.

The VA was looking at the same land, but they were thinking more in terms of a parking lot. So now four years later, there is nothing there but dirt, and Lelah has come back with a new idea for the land, just what southern Dallas needs, more subsidized housing so it can become even more segregated and so Dallas can make even more of a bull's eye of itself for federal officials already accusing the city of housing segregation. But -- and I say this with special deference to my easily bored blog commenter Mr. P1Gunter -- this is not going to be another blog item about that. Promise.

No, here is what I drew from last week's council debate. Councilman Scott Griggs pointed out that Lelah's cost in the project is now $570,000 an acre or just over $13 per square foot. Several council members, notably Dwaine Caraway and Rick Callahan, suggested that that seemed an impossibly high price to pay for land in this part of the city.

In response to a question, a city staff member assured the council that staff had checked everything out and the numbers were all fine. It was at that point that several council members asked to see those numbers.

And here is where I came pretty close to exhausting myself with investigative effort. I sat down to my computer. OK, I was already sitting at my computer, but I stayed there, and I went to the county appraisal district's online property appraisal site to see what the district's appraisers think the value of Lelah's land is, now that he has acquired it and done whatever else he had to do to turn it into dirt. I do this work for you.

I spent between 15 and 20 minutes -- but really grueling minutes -- on the appraisal district's map, and then I had to take all my numbers and process them through the calculator on my cell phone. What I came up with was this: According to the appraisal district, the premium lots in Lelah's assemblage, the ones that have frontage on Lancaster Road with a view of the DART tracks and the hospital, are valued at $5 per square foot.

The less desirable lots across the alley with an obstructed view of the VA Hospital are on the books at $1.06 a square foot. Hmm. Lelah spent $13 a square foot. Of our money. Hmm.

I could have counted up exactly how much of the land was $1.06 and how much was $5 a square foot and then done one of those algo-whatevers to figure out some other stuff, but I was too tired. I figured I had enough already to come to this conclusion: There might be some money missing somewhere.

And when I say "missing," please do not misinterpret. Nothing I have seen would allow, enable or encourage me to say that any kind of tiddly-winks whatever has taken place, nor hijinks nor fiddle. No. I am just saying, the city used to have $4.5 million in the till. Now those funds are not in the till any more.

There's a bunch of empty dirt that the appraisal district thinks is worth between $1.06 and $5 a square foot, all of it in the hands of Lelah, who was strangely absent from last week's council meeting about his project.

So when I say a lot of money seems to be missing, I merely mean missing in the sense of "passed on," as in, "those funds have passed on to their eternal reward, God bless them." (I think sometimes when there has been a loss, these euphemistic phrases can actually help us deal with our grief.)

Between now and next Friday it's pins and needles for me as we await the staff's explanation of how Lelah managed to spend that much money on that much dirt. The project, by the way, has always been the special brainchild of council member Vonciel Hill. She's a minister. Maybe she will agree to do the services.

My Voice Nation Help
58 comments
hwy77
hwy77

I'm thinking this project could easily morph into a very large, very nice dog park. We could even hire some poop picker-uppers to further enhance dog owners' lives and create jobs all at the same time. The council members who already have their own dog parks would pretty much have to support this. The larger taxpayer funding than they received might rankle them a bit, but the jobs angle could assuage that.   

AdamsonScott
AdamsonScott

I'm not impressed by this token look-see into this waste of money.  Dallas city government wastes and misspends millions of dollars every single day on functions which do not need to be conducted by government and can easily be transferred to the private sector.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

What does that mean - "It was the brainchild of...."?


I don't buy into the idea that the city just gave the land to the developer.  They don't just give stuff away - you have to ask.  So  he had to ask someone who was authorized to give it away, and that someone had to agree.  Whom did he ask?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Sapphire has assembled the entire city block and cleared it of 12 houses and two commercial buildings.  Measuring it from DCAD aerials, it is about 6.8 acres.  Comparing the Google Map aerials to the 2/2013 DCAD aerials, you can see the tract improvements locations before and after the bulldozing.  I wonder what happened to all those families?  

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Reading the headline....thought I was gonna be a story on "the wave.

James080
James080

The City of Dallas has a $4,300,000 deed of trust lien securing (at least part) of the property controlled by Yigal Lelah d/b/a Sapphire Road Development, bordered roughly by Lancaster, Atlas and Delaney, across from the Veteran's Hospital. There are dozens and dozens of Dallas (mowing) liens, so it's fair to say the other $200,000 wasn't spent keeping the property in decent condition. It's all in the Dallas Property Records.


A couple of the properties on Lancaster Road were formerly commercial tracts, but the majority of the original parcels look like small residential. You can decide for yourself if any or all of it was work a fraction of $4,500,000. 


Guesty
Guesty

It is worth noting that DCAD undervalues almost every commercial property in Dallas County, some by a wide margin.  We'll leave the question of why Texas doesn't require purchase-price disclosures to facilitate accurate tax appraisals for another day.

mcdallas
mcdallas

"(I think sometimes when there has been a loss, these euphemistic phrases can actually help us deal with our grief.)"  Unfortunately, the City doesn't even remotely see this as a "loss".  More like business as usual.


gadfly
gadfly

"The project, by the way, has always been the special brainchild of council member Vonciel Hill."


Talk about burying the lede..

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

Maybe the FBI have it after the JWP seizure. C'mon that's not too far of a stretch, this is Dallas we are talking about

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Immediately I wonder, from whom did Mr Lelah purchase the land? And who does that person (or people) know?


d-may
d-may

Yeah, I wouldn't put too much weight on DCAD. They typically estimate pretty low. $1/foot is pretty low (on the market not DCAD) for almost anywhere unless there is something seriously wrong with the property. Even flood plains can sell above that. 

WylieH
WylieH

Be careful around Vonciel Hill, Mr. Schutze... else she will out you as the REAL "fake Jesus."


So many questions, here:


1)  Why did the Council give this guy the money to buy the land instead of just purchasing it directly, itself?


2)  How does the City know all of the money they gave this guy went into the purchase of the land?  I mean, SURELY they weren't so stupid as to fund the money outside some sort of land escrow process?


3)  What sort of lien does the City have on the property to enforce the terms of the agreement?


4)  What obligation does Yigal Lelah face for non-performance?


5)  Who owned the land prior to its purchase by Lelah?


6)  What sort of qualifications did Lelah possess to undertake the proposed development?


7)  Did Yigal Lelah pocket any of the proceeds associated with the City's funding?  If so, what are the ethics associated with him contributing money to the election campaign of Mayor Rawlings (as noted in Rawlings July 15, 2012 campaign finance filing report)?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Yeah, DCAD is especially off in high impact areas where there's a lot of trading going on and huge differences in value in half a block of each other due to complex factors. But in this area? I doubt they are off by more than 10 percent. I know they are not off by 1300 percent.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@gadfly"Vonciel" and "brainchild" hardly belong in the same sentence together.

btzp
btzp

@Montemalone 


Oh, he's good friends with Lelah. They share an offshore bank account!!! 

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@d-may

There is certainly something wrong with this property.

There's a train that runs down the middle of the street right in front of it.

The VA hospital is on the other side of the street, providing welfare care to folks who can't or won't afford private insurance.  It draws crowds of homeless people with severe mental illnesses - many, off their meds for long periods of time and who were brought in by the police because they were too crazy for jail.

The surrounding neighborhood has an average income of nothing, and the homes and businesses buildings look like they should be condemned before they fall down on people.

One ambitious cop could spend his entire career ticketing the cars, because they're in worse shape than the buildings.


The question I want to know is - who's the idiot at city hall who actually believed that a luxury resort hotel could EVER be built there?

mcdallas
mcdallas

@WylieH Your questions are tough.  Too tough to handle.  Thusly, they will be promptly ignored.


Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@WylieHOh, and yeah, #5. I typed before I read. Always in a hurry.

Great minds...

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@WylieHDid we ever find out what happened to the giveaways at Fair Park a few years ago? Some auto museum or something? It wasn't as much money, if I recall, but I guess you start small and grow?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@WylieH 

8) How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Charms Blo-Pop?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX 

They are sometimes high, since they assume their is a market for all tracts.  In this case, unless there is a government or institutional demand, there is no private sector demand for any of the product types - apartment, office, retail or industrial - since the cost to place new product into service is not economically feasible (rents would not be high enough to justify the development costs).

If you put this 7.9 acres ($4.5M / $570k) on the market and took a year to sell it, I suspect it would not bring more than $1 per square foot.  The idea being there is no current demand so only a land speculator would pay a $1 in hopes (gambling) that it would one day sell for $5/SF.

If the VA doesn't want it, it's worth nothing right now except for speculation.

A market has to first exist before you can have Market Value.

DCAD refuses the argument, however.

The problem is carrying costs - loans plus property taxes.  But it may be exempt and there may be no pay back of a loan. = free

Guesty
Guesty

@JimSX Agreed, I wasn't trying to suggest there isn't something fishy here.  It just always pisses me off when I look at commercial valuations in DCAD.  

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@JimSX@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

Jim, I am paraphrasing from "Chinatown".  It is a state of mind, not an ethnic locale.


I am at the point where I am thinking that it is not that the City is inept, but rather that it is corrupt, but the problem is the actors are not smart enough to be corrupt, but that they are corrupt because they are inept.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@Montemalone @WylieH Regarding the Fair Park auto museum boondoggle, I brought it up last year, and now you've brought it up in 2014 already. Who's on deck with the good memory for 2015? The city has long forgotten it. If the VA weren't involved and Schutze wasn't awake in this one, maybe it would go the same way.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@bvckvs@Guesty@JimSX 

Don't need a slew of new appraisers, just need to require disclosure of commercial transaction prices to DCAD. Notice how a house appraisal jumps when sold?

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@Guesty@JimSX

We could always lobby for higher property taxes, so that DCAD can hire enough appraisers to work every one of the 2 or 3 million properties every year.

Or we can take the government at it's word of honor.


We chose to take the government at their word of honor... because it's cheaper.

observist
observist topcommenter

@Guesty@JimSX Yes, there is a well-maintained 8-unit apartment building kitty corner from my house in East Dallas.  It sold for over $800k in 2006 but is on the books at DCAD for $288k.  Commercial valuations are BS, and force house owners to subsidize apartment owners/renters.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@James080@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@btzp@lolotehe@JimSX

That's god's own truth right there.  There's a conspiracy for sure.  In fact, there's lots of conspiracies.

That's why, when it comes to public servants, we can't put up with even a little corruption - even if we think there's a benefit for ourselves.

When dealing with the devil, there are simply NO bargains to be had.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@James080@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@btzp@lolotehe@JimSX 

James, the difference is that we consider their actions to be corrupt but they do not.

 
While there may be people within the City government that are capable of developing and implementing corrupt actions, I insist that the majority of the City government are so inept that they are corrupt.  Consider my example of the building on Oram.


Also because they are inept, they do not consider their actions to be corrupt.


Also, there is a difference between inept and incompetent.

James080
James080

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@btzp@lolotehe@JimSX  

"My thesis is that the City staff is so inept that they have become corrupt, though they are incapable of consciously perpetrating a knowingly corrupt act."

I disagree entirely. They know exactly what they are doing, and for whom they are doing it. Do you think Yellow Cab has been coddled, promoted and protected by city staff because staff is incompetent? Not bloody likely, just follow the money. Staff does nothing without instructions, and they do nothing unless there is something tangible in the deed for them, or someone giving them orders. It wasn't incompetence that inserted park land into a gas lease with the city. The only real incompetence is how poorly staff tries to disguise their actions.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@btzp@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@lolotehe@JimSX 

You leave out one item.  The actions perpetrated are not  considered to be corrupt by those that are perpetrating them.


My thesis is that the City staff is so inept that they have become corrupt, though they are incapable of consciously perpetrating a knowingly corrupt act.


It is sort of the Catholic requirements for committing a mortal sin:


1) Knowledge

2) Free Will

3) Grave matter


Since they do not know that it is corruption that they are performing or committing, even though it is done of free will and is a grave matter, it is not an act of corruption (mortal sin).


As an example, I point out the building on Oram east of Skillman that is in excess of 36 feet tall but was considered by the City to be legal because of the planter boxes in front of the building which raised the "ground level".

btzp
btzp

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @lolotehe @JimSX 


I disagree with you. They are plenty smart enough to pull off individual acts of corruption, as proven in the past. There need to be a chain of people, nor chain of acts to commit a corrupt act. 

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@lolotehe@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul@JimSX 

My point was that the City is corrupt, not a conspiracy.  A conspiracy would require the ability to plan and execute some activity.   I do not think that these people are sharp enough to plan and execute a conspiracy.  They are so inept that the corruption is inevitable. (Just my humble opinion)

JustSayin
JustSayin

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @JimSX 

The film is about political corruption, greed and the dark side of human nature. Even in 1974 the line represented a state of mind (Jake's unwinnable battles) and was not an ethnic slur.


TPFKP's analogy is interesting because at the root were land deals, control of resources and corrupt city officials.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @JimSX 

Oh, believe me, I do know that line. 

Walsh: Forget it Jake. It's Chinatown. 

Narrator: You get tough. You get tender. You get close to each other. Maybe you even get close to the truth.

Dallas City Hall version:

Walsh: Forget it, Jake. It's 14-1.

Narrator: You get screwed. You get mad. You get accused of racism. You go back to just being screwed. 

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...