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Options limited for acquisition of Bull Creek tract

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Staff told City Council members Tuesday that the city has limited options in terms of how it might proceed with the acquisition of a very desirable piece of land located at the intersection of Bull Creek Road and 45th Street. Though Council members were set to potentially act Thursday on a purchase of the tract — currently owned by TxDOT — that move appears unlikely.

According to Council Member Bill Spelman, municipal acquisition of the land comes with a stipulation that all of it be used for public purpose. That determination — at least for now — appears to limit Council members to acquiring the roughly 75-acre tract in a prime commercial location for use entirely as a park.

Spelman circled around what he called the “critical issue.” “That’s not on the table,” he said. “I don’t think anyone really wants to take 75 acres and turn it into nothing but 75 acres’ worth of public purpose. The whole idea is that some of this is going to be commercial, people are going to live there, shop there and office there.”

Spelman continued: “Given that there will be some commercial purposes there, at least some, we haven’t got an instrument to purchase this property and flip it to somebody to operate it for commercial purposes. That’s just not something that we’re set up to do.”

Council Member Laura Morrison was the lead sponsor on a resolution directing City Manager Marc Ott to acquire the property. She told the Monitor on Tuesday that she remains optimistic about the situation. “I’m not feeling very hopeful (that Council could proceed Thursday), but I am the eternal optimist,” she said.

The Bull Creek tract has been a focus of discussion for some time. As part of Council discussion of that matter in September, the chair of the Bull Creek Road Association, John Eastman, suggested that there are roughly 60 acres of “highly developable” land at the site.

Eastman also called for an acquisition that would come at no cost to taxpayers. In September, City Chief Financial Officer Elaine Hart told Council members that the city could use around $4 million in affordable housing bond dollars as well as “anywhere from a half million to a million (dollars) in parks bonds” to pay for the acquisition.

Original figures for the cost of the land came in just short of $29 million. As the Monitor reported Tuesday, the number has jumped to $31.9 million.

As part of last Tuesday’s piece, Morrison told the Monitor that she’d hoped that staff would come up with funding solutions in time for the day’s work session. Though Spelman indicated that there had been some discussion about utilizing a public-private partnership, that idea has apparently yet to take hold.

Developers will no doubt be attracted to the property. Spelman believes that the next available option for purchase would be for the city to allow the property to head for bid, and for it to work with the winning bidder to develop the land.

The land remains unzoned. Spelman points out that this means any developer would have to “get all the entitlements from scratch.”

This would force any development through the city’s zoning process. That process would allow city staff, undoubtedly neighborhood stakeholders, boards and commissions, and, eventually, Council members to weigh in on what could be built on the land.

Though some complain that the city’s zoning process can be cumbersome, insiders suggest that this is not likely to discourage what could be a Bull Creek development.

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