Prestonwood Country Club Has Allegedly Been Stealing Water from Dallas For a Quarter Century

Categories: City Hall

WaterGolfCourse.jpg
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Back in the '80s, Prestonwood Country Club opened a course in Plano known as The Hills. To irrigate the greens and fairways, they pumped water out of Indian Creek.

What the folks at Prestonwood didn't know at the time, or else chose to ignore, was that the water they were drawing from the creek, a tributary of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, belonged to Dallas. This finally came to the attention of City Hall in 2011, when a tipster complained to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

No one knows for sure the value of the water that's been taken over the past three decades. Dallas Water Utilities Director Jody Puckett's best guess is in the ballpark of $500,000.

A representative of Prestonwood did not returned a call or email seeking comment.

(Update on February 13: "We're certain we will find a positive resolution to all aspects of this," Prestonwood GM Brian Keelan wrote in an email Wednesday evening. "We have been working diligently with all parties to find an amicable solution that's fair and equitable to everyone.")

The question the City Council faced today is 1) how best to collect Prestonwood's water debt and 2) whether to sell the country club water moving forward.

The council settled neither point. Because country clubs are playgrounds for the upper class, and because race and class in America are so closely entwined, and because the Dallas City Council can't talk about race without screaming at each other, things degenerated.

City staff, which has been negotiating with Prestonwood for a while now, proposed writing off the stolen water in exchange for a 3.1-acre wastewater easement that an appraiser hired by the city valued at $772,000 and simply charging the country club water moving forward.

Council member Scott Griggs kicked off the debate by suggesting the city was getting a losing deal. Twice Prestonwood has sued the Dallas Central Appraisal District to get a lower valuation for tax purposes, successfully getting it knocked down to about $.75 per square foot. What the city was offering to pay, simply to have access to a parcel of land that's mostly in the floodplain, was around $5.65 per square foot.

"They can't have it both ways," Griggs said. "It's not fair to the taxpayer, and it's not fair to the city of Dallas."

Seems like a fair point, and Griggs ultimately got his wish to have the a vote postponed, but first, Vonciel Hill had to let it be known just how much she loathes the fresh-faced intellectual property attorney from Oak Cliff.

"I think this entire public discussion is inappropriate," Hill declared. "I believe that the pontification I've heard is for public consumption and newspaper headlines."

Accusing a private business of theft is "utterly unnecessary, inappropriate and should not happen," she said. So was bringing up the two lawsuits they filed against DCAD.

"Allegations in lawsuits are meant to be disputed and handled in an appropriate forum," she continued. "Any lawyer with a law license and three seconds of practice knows that is the case. No litigator would step to any microphone and pretend that allegations in a lawsuits are a fact. I will not be voting for this spurious, misplaced, ill-conceived notion" that the vote be delayed pending further study.

Councilman Lee Kleinman also chimed in to defend Prestonwood. The country club, he says, "pays their own way," a fact he contrasted with public courses. It's taxpayer money that's paid for recent multi-million-dollar overhauls of Stevens Park and Tenison and paid for a fancy new clubhouse at Cedar Crest.

"[Y]eah, [Prestonwood] shouldn't be taking our water, we should be getting a proper appraisal, but let's not attack the golf industry when they pay their own way," he said. "They don't depend on North Dallas taxes to provide golf to South Dallas."

This, in turn, prompted Dwaine Caraway to declare that "I'm a mad Mr. Caraway right now" and launch into a fiery oratory about the struggle for racial justice in Dallas.

"In 1961, when black people started moving to Oak Cliff, the three-story clubhouse at Cedar Crest was burned down!" he said. It took a half century to get a decent one rebuilt. "We fought to get clubhouse built back."

But as Mayor Mike Rawlings and Jerry Allen eventually pointed out, the matter of how good a deal Dallas can get from Prestonwood will have little to do with how big a tax break it gets, or matters of race and class, or fairness. It will be based on what damages Dallas would be able to prove in court. Their conclusion: very little.

Translation: City staff will go back to the negotiating table, but don't expect a materially better deal.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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62 comments
zellousone
zellousone

One set of rules for the country club set and their cronies,  and another for the average schmucks  in society.   One side gets forgiveness on million dollar water thefts,  or trillion dollar US Treasury thefts (i.e. Wall St) and the little people are always stuck with the bill.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

Vonciel Hill's head ought to make a pretty good driver, if anybody still plays with woods.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

They are doing so well they lower their initiation fee by 1/2 last year.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Story behind the scenes here that everybody at City Hall whispers about: Kleinman has become Hill's mini-me, which in Hill's case is pretty mini. Other thing you have to know about Hill: she stops her own committee meetings to introduce rich white ladies who have entered the room and does a big, "We are graced by the presence of ..." as if Queen Elizabeth just showed up. Ah, it is indeed a tangled web at City Hall. Maybe Hill and Kleinman will do an operatic music video together: "V and Lee do Verdi." Anything is possible.

DoucheyBob
DoucheyBob

Yes, but they merely rented the beer...

WylieH
WylieH

How can Kleinman say that Prestonwood Country Club is paying its own way, when it simply stuck a pipe in a public waterway and started sucking our water out at no cost, while simultaneously suing DCAD to get its property taxes knocked down to virtually nothing?


Also, does Kleinman understand that Prestonwood isn't even in Dallas?  What public benefit do residents of Dallas get from Prestonwood in Plano that would justify writing off roughly $1 million in past due water bills and interest?

s.aten
s.aten

According to the Denton County Appraisal District, the land for the Presonwood Country Club in Plano is only worth $389,000.    That is less than the water bill.   I wonder if they will trade their land for the over due water bill?

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

Anyone else remember back in the day when Atlanta was competing with Dallas for conventions or business relocations they would show videos of Dallas city council meetings?   

ruddski
ruddski

"...and because no-one can talk about race without screaming at each other, things degenerated..."

Fixed that for you.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Why is Hill so vehemently opposed to any airing of stupid dealings by the city. Is she just gathering up chits that she can cash in when the sniffing gets close to her?

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Does anyone else notice that Councilcritter Hill appears to be channeling not only Elsie Faye Higgins but also Diane Ragsdale?

BenS.
BenS.

Arbor Hills Nature Preserve, which sits directly downstream of the golf course was impacted by the heavy water consumption, enough so that in 2011, the creek went dry. Mountain bikers for years have known about the tributary going dry from golf course side, none of us knew what they were doing was illegal. Wow.


Whole thing just reeks of stupidity after Plano built so much Austin looking bio-filter and recharge stuff into the parking lots and concrete there to supply the creek, when all along Prestonwood was poaching the water.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

It is interesting to read Vonciel Jones Hill's remarks about "allegations" of Prestonwood taking water that was not rightfully theirs to take, and continuing with complaints of anyone stating that Prestonwood had in fact stolen the water as "utterly unnecessary, inappropriate and should not happen."

uh Ms. Hill, you and the Council were in discussions about accepting an offer from Prestonwood to settle the damages caused by Prestonwood's taking the water. It seems to reason the guilt of Prestonwood had long ago been agreed upon, as it is now time to decide what they will pay for the offence.

good grief. This lady is completely daft.

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

"Collecting on Prestonwood's water debt." Sounds like the plot to a particularly boring Frank Herbert spinoff: "Bill Collectors of Dune".

_nctrnl
_nctrnl

Brilliant! So does that mean I'm now a member of the country club?

Americano
Americano

Small price to pay for a nice golf course.  Because Dallas doesn't waste money anywhere else.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

I watched it unfold live online and it was a sight to behold. Lots of questions, staff looking at their shoes and trying to run away but Caraway yelling at them for doing so, Hill's indignation. This is so much better than Beverly Hills Housewives.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

What does the City's municipal golf courses pay for their water? I suspect - nothing. Does the Appraisal District calculate the public courses' property taxes and how much do they pay in property taxes, or are they exempt?  You see, water and property taxes are a huge expense to a private golf cource facility and if the public courses are exempt from these expense items, how can the private courses compete for the total potential rounds played in Dallas if those costs have to be built in to (paid for) the private green fees?

There are only so many rounds to be played in Dallas on the Demand side of the equation.  It's a pie.  If the "playing field" is not level. how can a private course compete with the City courses?

Additionally, the City uses their borrowing capacity to build palaces like the upgrade to the Stevens Park course they own but it too doesn't have to be paid for out of increased green fees like the hapless private courses who must compete with the public courses.  

Can the private courses get the same tax and water rates the public courses receive?

DktrStrangelove
DktrStrangelove

Can someone from Prestonwood yell this, then beat down Robert Jeffress with a bowling pin? Thanks in advance.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Stupid fucks.

How does stealing water become a race riot?


Oh right.


And somebody oughtta see how many donations Vonceil's received from PCC.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

HOSS Get Little and Joe  Adam To night the Cartwright's ride to burn out the water stealing Country Club ..

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

Let it go, its done, charge them going forward instead of wasting more tax payers money and fighting this.

WylieH
WylieH

@JimSX  I've observed the same thing.... it appears that Kleinman is being groomed to take over from Vonciel Hill as the lead delegate representing the DCC/Park Cities when Hill is term limited out.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@JimSX  

Vonnie knows how to play - a compliment from the establishment affords common thieves like these a veneer of legitimacy.

You can't call a mobster a crook and still expect them to finance your campaign.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@WylieH  

Well . . . when it comes time to eat the rich, we'll know where to find them all. And, bonus! There'll be plenty of fresh water for the broth. 

dallasinthedrain
dallasinthedrain

@Americano Very good use of the water! Leave our golf courses alone.


MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

@holmantx The city doesn't charge large membership dues or initiation fees at the municipal courses.  Those are the primary income streams for the private clubs.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

If the "playing field" is not level. how can a private course compete with the City courses?

because the "playing field" is not meant to be "level".

The private courses are for-profit enterprises, or have a membership structure. the city courses are not, they are for the enjoyment of the citizens. It would be presumable the courses are budgeted on a "break even" basis on the fees paid to use the course.

Like other parks used by the citizens of Dallas, they are there as an amenity.

Guesty
Guesty

@whocareswhatithink  Why not tell them they can't have any water unless they pay the $500,000 they owe for for stealing it in the first place?  Or is it cool for me to come to your house and keep taking things until you catch me as long as I'm willing to begin negotiations on what I'll pay for what you have left at that point?


Of course, I'd probably string out the negotiations until the late spring, so the course goes to crap the second you cut off the water.  

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@MaxNoDifference @holmantx  

Most upscale semi-private golf facilities (as well as a few of the more exclusive country clubs) charge green fees to the public without the initiation or dues.  They run both schemes or just charge green fees (drive-ups and reservations).

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx  

Like a hotel?  But you agree that competing private sector developments of any kind where government facilities also charge fees for the same or similar product but don't have to pay taxes and other utilities can and should have an advantage?

Am I reading you correctly?

And Parks don't charge.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

How can the city upgrade and maintain Stevens Park when they are only charging green fees like this?

http://www.stevensparkgolf.com/rates/

And did the City mitigate all the mature trees they have knocked down on Tennison and Stevens to upgrade, or did they exempt themselves?

See why we call you a bunch a friggin' socialists?

Gangy
Gangy

@Guesty My golf-playing husband says Prestonwood is in the process of being sold.  That could be the reason to rush the agenda item.

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@mavdog @holmantx I'm pretty sure the golf courses are both net revenue contributors to the city. I remember when they were cutting park budgets, Caraway made some dumb comments about how it was racism that the golf courses would remain funded while parks would take a hit (because apparently only white people use the golf courses despite my anecdotal observations to the contrary). staff pointed out to him that the golf courses were net contributors to the park budget and they would have to make even more cuts if they closed the golf courses. Caraway was not impressed (or maybe he is so dumb that he didn't understand) and he wanted them closed on principle.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

82 semi-private clubs. plus dozens of clubs that are private.

apparently golf is a darn good business or there wouldn't be all these enterprises focused on it.

clearly the few City operated courses aren't affecting the private operators ability to stay in business. City courses offer golfers who can't afford private membership, or high green fees, an opportunity to play golf.

are these City courses "subsidized"? Don't know, their P&L's aren't published as far as I know. Do you know or do you pull that claim out of your rear? I think the later...

as we saw from the above notes on Prestonwood's DCAD assessment, the statement they "pay huge taxes" is ludicrous. or humorous. clearly an error on your part nonetheless.

bet you're unaware that since the Omni opened hotel occupancy rates and RevPer are both up?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx  

There are 82 semi-private clubs in Dallas Fort Worth

http://www.golfnow.com/dallas

why don't you call them for your play time?

Of course, they aren't "on par" with the City-owned Stevens facility in scenic beauty and amenities since they have to charge a lot more for a lot less because they can't compete with the government green fees.

For you see, the privately operated courses are not subsidized by the people, most of which do not even play golf.

But they DO have to pay huge taxes and utilities which support their government-operated competitors.

Just like the hotels downtown who must support that government hotel, which they also have to compete with.

Commie.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

why don't you call Brookhollow, Bent Tree, DCC, Preston Trail, Royal Oaks (do I need to list more?) not to mention Prestonwood and let us know what tee times a non-member can get for Friday?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

can't really say that I try that. 

but then you don't have to "feign" ignorance, do you? just comes naturally?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

"only humans can pay a tax".

corporations are viewed as a "legal person".....and they can and do pay taxes.

what this has to do with the above discussion is a good question.....but then focus has never been your strength, has it?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx  

Because it has been your assertion that businesses pay taxes and you have denied that only humans can pay a tax, since businesses are only COLLECTORS of a tax.  Taxation to any business is a cost of the product or service it offers, and must be passed on to the consumer of that product or service.

Remember?

You seem to have changed your tune.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

is your question...

do government orgs that are not for profit have an inherent pricing advantage vis a vis private for profit groups?

sure. they don't need to show a positive net.

was there a point you're trying to make?

parks don't charge, except that citizens of the city have already paid for their use thru property tax....

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