Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coming soon to an overspending council near you?

Forney – Great Porkopulous of Kaufman County

(Note: this is not mine, merely borrowed from another blog.)

“Ambition is the last refuge of failure.” – Oscar Wilde

This Reporter learned that the City of Forney ambitiously spent $20,000,000 on parks the city cannot afford. And what remedy does the city seek? Why, spread the wealth, or spread the misery – your choice. Forney is lobbying the State Legislature for a constitutional amendment to create parks districts, presumably districts that would mirror the associated school district.

When governments speak of “districts”, they speak of taxing entities, like hospital districts, municipal utility districts, school districts, community college districts and so on.

Your Texas State senator and Representative need to hear from you. They must know you do not want a constitutional amendment that taxes rural residents to pay for a municipality’s extravagance.

Times are tough and going to get tougher, before they get better. It is paramount we prevent an amendment to the Texas constitution that allows the formation of “park districts”

Select this link to find your Texas State Senator contact information:

Use this link to find your Texas State Representative:

Call, write a personal note, send email – be sure to tell them you oppose a constitutional amendment for “parks districts”.

Rockwall Residents are represented by

Rep. Jodie Laubenberg

Rockwall County Office:
603 N. Goliad
Rockwall, Texas 75087

(972) 772-8525
(972) 722-3377 Fax

E-mail Rep. Laubenberg – click on this link

Senator Bob Deuell

2500 Stonewall St.
Greenville, Texas 75401
(903) 450-9797
Fax (903) 450-9796

E-mail Sen. Deuell – click on this link

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rockwall City Council 20 September

Actions from Executive Committee: Bunch of folks reappointed to boards and commissions. A few new members were appointed. Can't have too much new blood, independent thinking may ensue.

III. Consent Agenda.

#3 Pulled by Councilman Sevier.

Rest passed 7-0.

#3 was the terrible idea known as PD-32, or as one councilman called it: "The Rob Whittle Bailout."

Passed 5-2, only Councilmen Sevier and Russo were wise enough to vote against the next failed Harbor project.

IV. Appointments.

1. P&Z Chairman Michael Hunter talked about the public hearing items.

2. P&Z Commissioner Mark Stubbs wants the city of Rockwall to build a massive sports complex so kids and adults can play kids games in luxury. 20-25 kids were in attendance to show support.

His points:

-Whole family played baseball and there was no youth sports park.
-None of his kids played baseball because there was no youth sports park.
-Rockwall is 20 years behind because we have no youth sports park.
-YMCA is nothing but a crutch for youth sports.
-The city hasn't grown faster becuase we have no youth sports park.

Then out came the power point:

-Basically, we "need" a youth sports complex for kids and adults to play kids games. (Kinda like how people "need" a flat screen tv, while the water heater is leaking.)
-In other cities the ratio of residents to ball fields is much higher than Rockwall. Except in the cities where it is lower.

The next speaker for the power point (to talk about finances):

-The youth sports complex would basically be free!
-In one weekend people attending games would spend almost a MILLION dollars! At 52 weeks, that's like 52 MILLION DOLLARS! We can't lose!
-Cities have to build these facilities. Private industries won't because they can't make any money. (Read that as, these complexes bleed money.)
-Terrell and Farmersville have better facilities than Rockwall and we can't fall behind those crappy towns. How embarrassing!
-Put it to a public vote. If it fails, then put it to more public votes until it passes.

I was told this guy, who wants Rocwwall to spend millions for his park, doesn't even live in the city.

Councilman Scott, who lives in a expensive house and is an expert on ballfields, wanted people to know that he has been accused of calling this "his project" and wants people to know that this is not "his project". It is his "legacy". (according to reliable sources.)

Councilman Sevier also expressed his support for the "need", but said it will be up to citizens to champion it.

Councilman Sweet had nothing to add to the conversation, but spoke for a while anyway.

V. Public Hearing Items.

1. Rockwall Honda wants to sell boats, but has to beg the city for permission to display the boats in front of his store.

Councilman Farris had some questions:

Q. How many boats be would displayed?

A: As many as will fit onto allotted area.

Q. How many people asked for Honda to sell boats?

A: Enough to make Honda want to sell boats.

Q: Will Honda want more signage? (Glen hates signs.)

A: Yes.

Q: Might Honda expand to even more product lines?

A: Uh, yes.

Councilman Sevier complimented Honda's upkeep of the front of the store.

Councilmember Nielsen wan to know what kind of boats, and this led to a lengthy discussion about what boats are, how they work, and the best kind of skis to buy. Or something.

2. Walgreens on 205 wants to display things that CVS is displaying right across the street, but can't because of Rockwall's Soviet-style planned development distracting. They want to add a Red Box, ice freezer, and propane cage.

P&Z opposed the Red Box, but the other 2 items were a-ok.

Cliff Sevier had made the motion to approve and David Sweet seconded.

Margo Nielsen's opposition was that there was too much storage outside, having those items wont increase sales, nor influence anyone to go to that store.

Matt Scott was ok with the ice and propane, but was worried about theft of the Red Box. Yes, he really said that. No, he wasn't prompted by the Chief of Police sitting a few feet away.

Glen Farris has a problem with outside displays. Pointed out that the Walgreens moved into the
Soviet-style planned development, and knew ahead of time these items would not be allowed. Also, Mr Farris stated there was no market for propane, ice, or a Red Box. It was not a necessity, and it would not help business "that much".

Isn't it nice to have such brilliant elected officials to help people know what is and isn't good for our private business?

Cliff Sevier had made the motion to approve and David Sweet seconded.

The wind then shifted, and Councilman Sweet rescinded his second.

Matt Scott would not judge their business model, but would not support allowing things not in the PD.

Councilman Sevier pulled his motion in order for the item to return at next council for a full vote. (Mr Russo had left a little while before.)

3. 7-11 at 205 and 552 want a Red Box and ice freezer to be displayed outside of the store. Applicant asked for a postponement.

VI. Action Items.

1. Hotel/Motel money stuff. $390k was asked for by various groups, $190k was given allocated. The vote was in two parts, the first part passed 6-0, the second part was for money to go to the chamber of commerce, Mr Farris recused himself, but it passed 5-0-1.

5. Heritage Christian Academy needs an extension for the portable buildings used for classrooms. A lot less silly questions this year from last, but alas there were a few.

The mayor wanted to know how long the school expects to not have enough money to finish out the second floor of the main building.

The school had no clue how long it would not have enough money to finish out the second floor. Mr Farris added to the motion that if the school left, the SUP would not pass on to next owner.

Passed a 3-year extension, 6-0.

3. City has an ordinance that if you have outside dumpsters, the dumpsters must be enclosed. (Somehow some properties are excluded by being "grandfathered" in after the ordinance was passed.) The city, however, wants to make sure businesses that want to recycle can do so easily. The new ordinance would remove the screening requirements and require a free permit so the city can tell you the best place to place the dumpster. There are 20-25 recycle dumpsters in the city that are causing hearts to stop from people seeing them. The city wants to force people who are already recycling to ask the city for permission to continue doing so.

Margo Nielsen, who has enclosure-less recycling dumpsters in violation of current ordinance at Helping Hands, was assured by Glen Farris that her dumpsters were ok and would not require any city intervention. He continued this was a method to force people to be considerate to others.

David Sweet thought the permit was too much.

The city's position is basically that they want people to recycle, they just don't want people driving by a business to know that business is recycling.

It was proposed the ordinance would read in such a way that the recycling dumpsters would be mostly out of sight. Tabled to reword ordinance.

Dumpster talk only took 25 minutes.

6. City is finally codifying solar panels. City will have a 1000 sqft limit for electric, pool, and/or water. Will require a permit only, no more begging the city to let you save energy and money.

10. REDC Budget. What do they do again? Passed 6-0.

11. Rockwall Technology Park budget, including maintenance performed by Ms Nielsen's family. Passed 5-0-1, Ms Nielsen recused herself.

7. Amended budget for 2010.

8. Adopted budget for 2011.

Mr Scott, who is very wealthy and a brilliant lawyer (just ask him), had several points:

-The sky is not falling.
-At last meeting, it was suggested by a stupid citizen to cut spending, not gonna happen on Matt Scott's watch.
-Costco, which Mr Scott personally brought to Rocwkall, made everything great!
-There is no chance of a double dip recession, in fact all the economist he listens to say we are coming out of the recession!

Here's a link to one of those economist: M.E.B. Financial

Then there's this dummy who thinks we aren't out of a recession: Dumb Guy who knows nothing of finances. You really can't trust someone who lives in a $31,500 home. Mr Scott lives in a much more expensive home and according to him, that makes him very wise in the ways of money. Not only that, he is so smart he went to the best school in the nation and has the diploma to prove it!

The mayor noted that thanks to LRE (aka the Zoo), the Ad Valorem collections were awesome!

Then the rest of council spoke for 20 minutes what a great job they all were doing.

9. Ad Valorem rate remains 50.31 per 100. Mr Sweet then had 845 things to say about that, including how responsible council has been with tax dollars.


4. Electronic Sign to replace all those banners the city and others put up.

This led to Mr Sevier asking why political signs placed in front of Chili's in TxDot right-of-way are removed, but elsewhere in the city political signs in TxDot right-of-way are not.

Mr Scott then belittled and mocked Mr Sevier for his question, pulled out his diploma, and said, "THAT'S WHY!"

And for some reason the Mayor mentioned In-N-Out coming to Rockwall. He may have been talking in his sleep.

12. Discussion of broadcasting meetings over internet. Staff still "looking" into it.

2. The capital improvement planning work session will be moved to the "retreat". Mr Scott will be pushing for the youth sports park. The Mayor doesn't think this is a good time to put forth a massive bond election. I thought we were immune to the laws of economics in Rockwall.

Maybe the Mayor needs to consult with Mr Scott's financial planner:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Condominiums ≠ apartments. Except when they do...

Thankfully, our city government is far more open and trustworthy than Richardson - they would never go off and do something like this.

Plan to trade condos for apartments angers residents in Richardson's Brick Row development

08:32 PM CDT on Saturday, September 25, 2010
By IAN McCANN / The Dallas Morning News

Construction at Brick Row, a mix of apartments, condominiums, townhouses and retail in Richardson, started two years ago as the real estate market was imploding.

Developers and city officials touted the $140 million project as an upscale replacement for hundreds of aging apartments near a DART light-rail station and a place for young professionals to get an Uptown feel in the suburbs.

But with the condo market still lagging, developer Winston Capital is asking for permission to build more apartments instead of the condominiums that were planned.

That has nearby residents and those who bought the first townhouses in Brick Row crying foul.

They want the development that is on paper, which included 150 townhomes, 300 condos and only 500 apartments.

"I would never have bought if I knew this was going to happen," townhouse owner Gary Flatt told Richardson plan commissioners this month. "Would you buy next to a bunch of apartments? I wouldn't."

The City Council is expected to consider the proposal in October. Commissioners voted 5-2 to allow some of the planned condominiums to become apartments, but those closest to the townhouses are to remain condo units.

A handful of Brick Row's townhouses have sold, and the condos probably wouldn't sell if they were built. But the apartments are renting briskly, developers say.

They argue the buildings would look the same, and they would fill more quickly, providing more residents to draw retail. The goal, the developer said, is to build a complete community.

"The market is what it is, and we're trying to make the best development we can," said Chris Ray, a Winston Capital executive. "It all relies on the other pieces."

The mix of housing at Brick Row, once called Centennial Park, has long been a contentious issue. Residents in nearby Highland Terrace wrestled with a plan for the area nearly a decade ago, eventually settling on 800 units at most. They strongly objected when Brick Row's zoning was set in 2007 at 950 units.

Brick Row is one of several mixed-use developments in Richardson and is part of a larger redevelopment strategy. It replaced hundreds of older apartments at Greenville Avenue and Spring Valley Road.

Since Winston broke ground on the project in 2008, some segments of the housing market have recovered. Even some condos, primarily near downtown Dallas, are once again selling. But new suburban condos are simply not viable because people can't get financing to buy or even build them, said Mike Puls, a Dallas real estate analyst.

"A condo won't work there for 20 years," Puls said of areas beyond LBJ Freeway.

While residents would rather the land remain vacant than have apartments on it, Puls said it's better for the tax base and property values to have something built.

Still, residents are adamant in their opposition to substituting apartments for condos. They want owner-occupied units, not hundreds more renters.

"It needs to be what they said it was going to be," said Shelley McCall, president of the Highland Terrace Neighborhood Association. "If it takes a little longer, that's fine."

Monday, September 20, 2010

It can't happen here..........

It can't happen here. It can't happen here. It can't happen here. It can't happen here. It can't happen here. It can't happen here. It can't happen here. (Just keep repeating until you believe it.)

Dallas real estate projects stuck in neutral as market idles

12:56 AM CDT on Sunday, September 19, 2010
By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

The new streets are paved, the landscaping is in place, and fancy signs and sculptures tell motorists they've arrived at MidtownPark. But there's no there there at the project just east of North Central Expressway.

Plans for dozens of buildings have not gotten off the ground – another result of the national recession and real estate market downturn.

Developers tore down more than 80 acres of aging apartments around the intersection of Meadow Road and Manderville Lane. The blocks of prime real estate were cleared to make way for a development that was to include residential and commercial projects.

Three years ago, investment brokers were hired to market the land. But most new apartment and commercial developments have been on hiatus in the last couple of years.

The property is zoned for 3,800 apartments, condos and townhouses, 90,000 square feet of retail space and 930,000 square feet of office space.

"You can be very smart with real estate and timing, but things totally out of your control can be a real problem," said property broker Newt Walker. "The money that was available for new deals and demand for projects like that abruptly shifted away.

"Now it's just sitting there until the real estate market turns, and no one knows how long that will be."

MidtownPark developer Valencia Capital Management oversaw construction of sidewalks, a traffic roundabout and small parks for the project. The city of Dallas paid almost $10 million to help revamp the neighborhood between North Central Expressway and Greenville Avenue.

Officials with Dallas-based Valencia Capital did not return phone calls.

Slow going

A few miles to the east on Skillman Street, there's another mixed-use development in waiting.

Lake Highlands Town Center is planned as a 70-acre high-density urban development to be built at Skillman and Walnut Hill Lane.

Developer Prescott Realty Group knocked down hundreds of decrepit apartments for the project, which will include retail, residential and public space along White Rock Creek.

Ground was broken in 2007 – right before the recession hit.

The first phase of construction, which includes new roads, a lake park and other public amenities, is pretty much done.

Work will be finished on a new DART light-rail station to serve the project late this year.

But so far, none of the apartment and retail buildings are under way.

"It's going a little slower than we anticipated, but we are moving forward," said Prescott Realty president Vance Detwiler. "We are actively marketing the project and hope to have an announcement in the next 90 days.

"We look forward to getting going."

Just wait

Prescott Realty has also closed down two large apartment communities just south of its construction site. Those buildings will probably be knocked down at some point, Detwiler said.

Development sites are selling for as much as a 50 percent less than they were a few years ago, said Will Balthrope, a vice president of investment with Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services.

"And there is a dearth of financing for any new construction," he said.

But eventually properties like MidtownPark and Lake Highlands Town Center will be on builders' front burners, he said.

"The hard lifting has already been done," including the zoning and infrastructure construction, Balthrope said. "While those tracts sit vacant today, the person that eventually builds on them will make a lot of money."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rockwall City Council 7 September

III. Proclamations.

1. Constitution Week. Some ladies from the DAR accepted the proclamation honoring the adoption of the US Constitution.

Almost in unison the council exclaimed, "Consti-what-tion?"

It was then explained that the Constitution was the "whole basis of how we live and what we do." If only.

The mayor then declared the Constitution to probably be one of the most important documents in US history.

The ladies then handed out copies to the audience. When she approached councilmembers, their reaction was that of a vampire to a cross.

Actually one councilman took a copy to solve a wobbly-chair problem.

2. National Preparedness Month.

Basically, you should have a plan and supplies in case of dire life threatening-emergency. Liek say, your golf course isn't getting watered.

I say forget all that advice and just call the city if you ever need anything. That's what city government is for, to fulfill the desires and needs of citizens. Well, certain citizens anyways.

On second thought, you better get prepared and not rely on government.

IV. Open Forum.


V. Consent Agenda.

2 & 3 pulled by councilmen that couldn't be bothered to go to a couple meetings and therefore couldn't vote on the minutes.

Rest passed 7-0.

VI. Appointments.

1. P&Z was a no show!

VII. Public Hearing Items.

1. Budget.

City comments:

No new employees.
No new taxes.

Not City comments:

No cut in spending.

Only one person spoke:

-Told the mayor not to fear free speech, nor demonize those who engage in it (via blogs).
-The economic outlook is not a rosy as the mayor claims.
-In the real world (read: private sector) when revenue goes down, costs are cut
-Reduce the budget, not maintain status quo to prepare for what the rest of the populace sees happening in the financial world.

2. ANOTHER fella has to beg the city for permission to install solar panels on his house.

One audience member spoke asking why solar panels are still requiring the homeowner to beg the council for permission to install solar panels.

Mayor Cecil: "Because we require it."

Audience member: "This should be a routine process. Plano has it figured out."

Councilman Farris then defended the city's inaction by explaining that the city has been studying the issue "intently". The city wants to make sure it's ok with HOA's before it is codified.

Passed 7-0.

VIII. Fella in the Zoo built a fence too high (48", city max 42") and without permission from the city.

Councilmember Nielsen asked why the city standard was 42", as 48" seemed like a more "regular" height.

Chief Code Guy Widmer: "At 48 inches, it is hard for people from a vehicle to see into the yard."

In case you didn't get that:

At 48 inches, it is hard for people from a vehicle to see into the yard.
At 48 inches, it is hard for people from a vehicle to see into the yard.
At 48 inches, it is hard for people from a vehicle to see into the yard.
At 48 inches, it is hard for people from a vehicle to see into the yard.
At 48 inches, it is hard for people from a vehicle to see into the yard.

Ms Nielsen asked for a more reasonable standard and made the motion to approve.

Passed 7-0.

2. PD-32 aka Failed Harbor Project 2

Glen Farris:

-Thanked council for postponing vote until the vote was stacked.
-The "hill" is the most valuable piece of property in the Metroplex. (uhhh, I'm guessing Glen hasn't seen much of the Metroplex.)
-Potential income for the city is $700 million. (How the city coffer benefit from a TIF, I have yet to see.)
-Will make every single person in Rockwall's life so much better. (Yipee! I knew the only thing missing to make everyone in Rockwall feel great was a watching a bunch of yuppies crammed into a tin can. )

Matt Scott:

-Lot of good reasons to oppose apartments and multifamily. (Has repeatedly said he does not support multifamily.)
-Opposing anything but single family is dogmatic. (Has repeatedly said he does not support multifamily.)
-Supported the apartment complex "Evergreen".(Has repeatedly said he does not support multifamily.)
-Opposing multifamily is not good.(Has repeatedly said he does not support multifamily.)
-These are not "apartments", just a bunch of units crammed together on all sides and each with a separate deed. (As opposed to an apartment which is just a bunch of units crammed together on all sides and each with a single deed.)
-All units will be owner occupied. (No one has yet said how this will be enforced.)
-The homes will be worth more than the $190k average home in Rockwall and more than all of councils' homes, except Mr Scott's home which is worth WAY more than the next councilman's home.
-Can't vote cautious just because you can't see the future. (But you can vote reckless when you can't see the future.)
-Mr Scott then chastised me (indirectly) for not having enough knowledge about such things because my home is only worth 12% of the taxable value of Mr Scott's home. He would rather live in a town of $300k homes, not those as low valued as mine. (FYI, He forced a neighborhood full of those types of home into the city limits.)
-He noted the investors in the audience ready to build as soon as the city invests ten of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund this fiasco.
-He then got onto Councilman Russo for previously voting throughout the process, but now not wanting to spend ten of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund this fiasco.
-He then continued that opposing wanting to spend ten of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund this fiasco was irresponsible.

Cliff Sevier:

-Noted that had the mayor not tabled the issue, it would have died at the previous meeting. It was tabled to guarantee passage with a stacked council.
-He defended his votes to spend money on the plans, as he couldn't vote against something that didn't exist.
-8 other large multifamily complexes in Rockwall have less density combined than this project.
-Massive increase in parking and traffic issues.

David Sweet:

-This is needed for the success of the Harbor. (Big government solution to a failed government created problem: throw money at it. Ah, works so well for Social Security, Schools, Mass Transit, etc.)
-Need more foot traffic during the day. (Foot traffic ain't the missing factor in the equation of success at the Harbor; stuff people want to buy is the missing factor in that equation.)
-These are not "apartments" or "multifamily", just a bunch of units crammed together on all sides and each with a separate deed. (As opposed to an apartment which is just a bunch of units crammed together on all sides and each with a single deed.)
-Will be a TIF (Remind me, David, how does a TIF halp the city?)

Margo Nielsen:

-For 10 years mystery people have been asking for different housing types to downsize.
-The council has good intentions. (Good intentions are also useful pave stones for certain destinations.)

Mayor Cecil:

-This will not be successful without residential. (Just like all the other retail areas in Rockwall, if it wasn't for that apartment complex in the middle of the Kroger parking lot, it would have gone out of business a LONG time ago.)
-No one will pay $100k or more for these homes without retail. (Someone should tell that to those who developed the Shores, Chandler's Landing, Buffalo Creek, etc.)
-These are not "apartments" or "multifamily", just a bunch of units crammed together on all sides and each with a separate deed. (As opposed to an apartment which is just a bunch of units crammed together on all sides and each with a single deed.)
-Nothing can stop someone from owning multiple condos and renting those units out. (Sounds a lot like an apartment.)
-People want to own a piece of the Harbor. (I'm guessing he means the developers.)
-This is the best possible scenario to make this development and the Harbor successful. (Wow, an admission from the mayor that the Harbor was a failure. And before anyone argues: IT IS IN BANKRUPTCY.)

Passes 5-2.

Only councilmen Russo and Sevier saw the foolishness of spending TENS OF MILLIONS OF TAX DOLLARS to develop Rob Whittle's second major failure in Rockwall.

The city will be the "developers" of this land.
This will be a massive collection of apartments.
This will cost tens of millions Rockwall tax dollars.

Anyone who tells you differently is lying to your face.

4. City annexing to make sure some folks can't do with their property what they want.

5. City adding pergolas to allowed structures on the takeline. Dallas ok with it, but no more changes in building types.

6. Something about a demolition delay for homes in the historic ovelay district.

7. Item about allowing wineries in city limits. Passed 7-0. More benefits for the "wine and cheese" folk passed by the 2 "hot dog and beer" councilmen?

8. The staff needs to schedule a meeting to discuss capital improvement planning and want council input as to when they think it would convenient for them to attend and inconvenient for citizens.

9. The terribly designed left turn at Ralph Hall and Horizon needs fixing. Gonna cost $25k, but City Manager Julie Couch says that money doesn't exist, especially with this multi-million dollar fiasco called PD-32 coming up. May not happen, but staff will investigate to confirm it won't happen.

I've notice that whenever staff comes up with some idea, they can always find money in the budget to fund that project. But very often, when councilmembers come up with an idea, the city responds "there ain't no money" before the councilman even finishes his sentence. Weird.