Put a fork in ’em

0
484
City Wards

Housing projects die in City Council meeting

Dead. Gone. Drive a stake through their hearts and bury ‘em in a lead-lined crypt.

Two proposed low-income housing projects for Pleasant Grove went down for the count Monday night in the Texarkana City Council chambers. One waswithdrawn before the meeting began, the other died after the council heardtestimony from 20 citizens and voted 4-3 to kill it.

Apartments

A proposed 96-unit workforce housing complex on an L-shaped parcel that fronts Cowhorn Creek and Galleria Oaks was withdrawn because of questions regarding the land owner’s willingness to sell. City Attorney Jeffery Lewis tightly questioned DarrenSmith of developer MVAH Partners and Realtor Richard Reynolds to assure thattheir request to withdraw meant it would not be brought again in the 2019funding cycle.

Taking note of strong citizen opposition voiced at the meeting, Reynolds said the Cowhorn Creek proposal might re-emerge later, but was vagueon when that might be.

“There will have to be a lot of public education first,” he said.

 “A letter of objection, zero points, in a highly competitive process?” Smith said. “It’s dead.”

Summerhill site plan
Preliminary site plan for the Reserve at Summerhill Road. Source MVAH Partners

The council declined to support a proposed 107-unit complex at the intersection of Summerhill and Clear Creek Drive after opponents questioned its need, its contribution to the tax base, the lack of infrastructure at the site, and its effect on the area’s quality of life and land values.

Rather than offer a resolution of support, worth 17 points in the allocation process, city staff recommended one of no objection, worth14. Instead, the council voted a resolution of opposition, worth no points.

That, said Smith, killed it.

Although the vote split along racial lines – Council members may Hart, Jean Matlock and Christie Alcorn supported the project, Josh Davis, Bill Harp and Betty Williams opposed it, and Mayor Bob Bruggeman broke the tie –the discussion was largely centered on facts.

One of the most convincing seemed to come from Lewis, who told the council that city staff noted that Texarkana already has twice the state average of available per-capita, low-income housing. That was not immediately made apparent when the proposals first surfaced a few weeks ago. Texarkana has not seen many tax-credit-supported low-income housing proposals in the past, said the city attorney, adding that he was working with staff to ensure a more orderly review process.

Chief Appraiser: Would pay fraction of customary property taxes

Mike Brower, head of the Bowie County Appraisal District, seemed to hold the council’s attention when he noted that tax-credit properties pay only a slice of what commercial apartments pay in local property taxes. He also offered the view that the complex could reduce property values.

“(Tax-credit properties) have a tax advantage that normal apartments don’t … because they’re not appraised using market rents or even market value,” Brower said. State law dictates that local appraisers must base appraisals on net income and must use whatever “reasonable” expenses owners claim.

“The formula that we have to use produces a taxable value that is nowhere near what would be considered a true market value,” he said. For example, Abbington Glen in Nash cost around $5.7 to $6 million to build but is on the appraisal rol for $2 million, a third of actual cost

Reviewing literature, Brower concluded that the apartments would have a negative effect on nearby property values. Even a small percentage drop would be significant.

With ¾mile of the proposed Summerhill site is $345.9million of property, roughly 16 percent of the city’s 2018 certified tax roll.That includes 1,196 single-family homes, $249 million; 55 duplexes, $8.9million; 4 triplexes, $985,000; two apartment complexes, $6 million; 50 vacant commercial parcels $4 million; vacant residential land valued at $4 million;and 74 commercial properties $59 million.

The people speak

Mike Ingram

At a meeting two weeks ago, Hart intimated that opposition to the proposals stemmed from a notion that people believe tenants “might not be the right color.”

The first speaker, Mike Ingram, who lives in the Dogwood area, countered that.

“We live in a very diverse area of Dogwood and I love all my neighbors,” said Ingram, noting that he has worked with the Literacy Project and Harvest Food Bank. “This has absolutely nothing to do with race, but with property values … I care deeply for the needs of the low-income population, but there are other areas of town for this project.

Michael V. Wilson

Ex-Marine Michael V. Wilson seemed to speak for many people, noting the project is not needed, is unfair to taxpayers, and runs counter tothe values held dear by homeowners.

“What we own, we take care of,“ Wilson said. “What we don’t own we trample on or ignore. It’s just human nature.

“We pay full property taxes to the city and no one has ever helped us pay our mortgage. So why should our taxes be used to help someone else pay for their housing? Is that fair? Of course not.

“This affordable housing project creates crowded living conditions, and that always leads to trouble. It adds to the more than twice the units Texarkana already has, puts money ahead of people, rejects the pride and dignity of ownership, and is fundamentally unfair.”

Fred Meisenheimer

Fred Meisenheimer argued that the proposed complex would create infrastructure needs, especially on Summerhill Road, which is two-lane at the site under consideration.

The developer estimated land acquisition, construction, and other costs would run $17,380,000. Tax on that valuation would yield $469,000 for the city, county, school district, and community college. In documents provided to the city, the developer projected $20,000 in the early years, and rising to $30,000 in later years.

By contrast, Meisenheimer said Legacy Apartments, valued at $12,000,000, pays $331,000 in annual property taxes

Nor, Meisenheimer argued, does Texarkana need more apartments. The city’s own community profile puts the 2018 vacancy rate 11.4percent. The national average is 7.1 percent.

“We have vacancies in town for anyone who needs a place alive, he said, pointing out there are six complexes that offer housing to people with low to moderate incomes within four miles.

“We’re not creating housing to help anybody,” he said. “All we’re doing is moving people around town … so really what you’re doing is creating 90 vacancies somewhere else in town.”

Steve Jumper

Steve Jumper questioned why the council would want to antagonize its Golden Goose. He noted that Ward 6 pays 48 percent of the city’s property tax bill. Damaged those property force budget cuts in all ward and might lead to de-annexation, where everything north of I-30 would be the City ofPleasant Grove.

Cliff Robertson

Cliff Robertson argued that building more apartments in an over-built market would not be a zero-sum game. There will be losers.

“The people who would live in these apartments live somewhere now,” he said, taking note of former luxury complex that shuttered its windows after being surrounded by a larger complex. “The owners of those apartments will obviously lose business and eventually downgrade the quality of their units.

He noted that the city is a significant source of funding for another low-income complex, the Grim hotel.

“Texarkana USA does not suddenly have a need for 300 new apartments,” he said.

Lisa Watson

A resident of Whitney Circle, Lisa Watson, reminded the council of the emotional investment people put into their homes.

“I’m just concerned about having an apartment complex in a residential neighborhood. Who’s to say that in a few years that somebody else won’t buy these apartments, that they won’t be very particular about doing background checks on the people who move there,” she said.

 “What I’m concerned about is having an apartment complex right outside my front door,” she said. “When we moved into a residential neighborhood, where it seems like there should be single-family dwellings or duplexes, but a big apartment complex with retail sales? That just seems like a kind of bait-and-switch.

“That’s my biggest concern. It certainly doesn’t have to do with race,” she added. “I was a school teacher. I love kids, whatever color they are.

Michael White

An investor in multifamily properties on both sides of the state line, Michael White, questioned the fairness of giving outside investors huge property tax breaks

“I’m pretty good in math. I would like to have that same deal on 27 of the doors that I have in this area. …. We pay all of our taxes, a substantial amount,” White said.

“I appreciate what you guys are doing, but you have a responsibility to listen to the citizens in this town and to the local people who invest in this town, not someone from out of town,” he said.

Glen Moses

The owner or two small commercial properties on Texas Boulevard, Glen Moses got the last word. He pays the same amount of taxes on his two tracts as the proposed $12 million development.  

“All the business people who own property in Texarkana want in on the same kind of deal they’re on,” said Moses

Hart not swayed

Hart defended the condition of public housing and told the gathering that she stood by what she said two weeks ago.

The High-Rise complex is undergoing renovation and Renaissance Plaza, which sits next to it, is a good place to live, she said.

“It’s very nice,” she said. “I know, because I live there. I live in my ward. I’m very proud of my ward. It has problems. Believe it or not, the crime is down. The places that have been built, the apartments, they are kept immaculate. People keep them very clean. You don’t find Pampers in the yard. They clean their yards. You don’t find ragged cars parked all over the yard and everything, and you don’t find a bunch of guys gathered with nothing better to do than to wreak havoc.”

She stressed that the neighborhood works closely with police to help make it a safer place to live.

“I mentioned some things here, and I still feel the same way and it almost brings me to tears,” she said. “I have I’ve heard every statistic, every flip and twist, any way you want to turn it, but I want you all to know that we all deserve decent living.

“I wouldn’t want to devalue your property, but we all have to realize that things are going to change, and we’re not going to be able to stop those changes. Our great-great-great-great-grandchildren are going to live here, and if things are not available to them and we don’t let our city grow asit should, they will leave this town and this town will die away.

“It’s just a matter of opening up your heart and sharing what God has blessed us with.”

Previous articleIt’s early in the game
Next articleSchool Board, CHRISTUS complete land swap
A veteran journalist and educator, Bill Owney is a 1980 graduate of the University of Florida. Writing awards include APME honors for investigative reporting, the Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Award for public service reporting and numerous awards for editorial, column and news writing. He served as publisher of the Atlanta Citizens Journal and Pittsburg Gazette when each paper won sweepstakes awards from the Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Associations. He spent 15 years as a public school teacher and is an adjunct professor of English at Texarkana College.