Don't take my land
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 00:09
I would like to thank The Houstonian for allowing me to comment on the recent letter by Dr. Dana Gibson, President of Sam Houston State University. In her letter Dr. Gibson provides her version of circumstances surrounding the sale of the Army Reserve Center from the City of Huntsville. My company, Maalouf Properties, LLC of Huntsville submitted the highest bid and now owns the property.
Because of the sale, the City and taxpayers of Huntsville will receive not only the sales price but also a significant future annual return in the form of property taxes and sales taxes that this prime commercial property will generate. I plan to further develop this property into a venue that will provide a significant service to the people of Huntsville and particularly to the SHSU community.
Sadly, the road to this achievement by the Huntsville community has not been an easy one. What should have been a routine sealed bid process conducted by the City in accordance with the requirements of its own Charter and of State Law was interrupted at the last minute by an attempt by the University to get the City to void the results of that process. Then, when that failed, the University threatened the City and any future owner with a condemnation lawsuit to seize the property using Eminent Domain.
Dr. Gibson begins by citing the long history of SHSU and the City working together as partners based on "a spirit of collaboration, trust and mutual respect." Speaking just for myself, I don't see how these recent actions by SHSU serve to honor that long tradition.
While I find Dr. Gibson’s version of the sequence of events that preceded the bid process somewhat dubious, I was not involved and therefore do not choose to comment.
I would like to comment, however, on Dr. Gibson's claimed intentions for the property. I support our veterans and the people willing to serve in the uniform of our country; however, I simply do not believe Dr. Gibson intends to use this property to expand their Veteran and ROTC programs as she claims. The Veterans Resource Center just moved into their new location on campus and will be celebrating their grand opening in the coming weeks. The ROTC department currently occupies at least five times the square footage available in the Armory. In short, the ROTC department alone will not fit. Additionally I, and at least one other, have offered suitable alternative properties at less cost, which the University has declined.
Dr. Gibson attempts to rebut my statement that there has been no attempt to contact me or my attorney regarding the purchase with the statement “the University had reached out to Mr. Maalouf and his attorney on several occasions”. This is misleading, at best. No one at the University attempted to contact me or my attorney about this matter prior to receiving the letter from the Texas State University System on August 5 threatening the process of Eminent Domain. At that time, the property was still owned by the City.
Yes, you read that right. The University was actually threatening to sue the City and seize this property by force if necessary, not just from me, but from the City. So much for Dr. Gibson's "spirit of collaboration, trust and mutual respect."
I assume that the "impartial third party" that Dr. Gibson refers to is a developer and personal friend of hers, who did contact me to advise that if I did not accept "reasonable profit" for a "quick flip" SHSU would likely sue the City of Huntsville to get the property. I refused this offer and rejected this threat. That conversation took eight minutes, not several weeks as Gibson claims. No one else has attempted to intercede.
But, as Dr. Gibson writes, the Attorney General’s Office did send a letter to my attorney requesting that we assign the contract to them for $32,500. What she failed to mention is that the contract, by its own terms, did not allow us to assign it even if we had wanted to.
I would not have assigned it anyway, as a taxpayer who believes in economic development, I would like to see this property on the tax rolls.
I do take offense to Dr. Gibson making small of my admittedly humble efforts to increase property and sales tax revenues for local governments. But 0.3% for a single property is fairly high and every little bit helps. And every property like this taken off the rolls, as the University would do, hurts by just that much.
While there are several other problems with Dr Gibson's letter and attitude, there is a much larger issue here. Can we as taxpayers, continue to sit by while all levels of government
continue to expand indefinitely, become more and more powerful, consume more and more resources, gobble up more and more tax money, without at some point saying "Enough is enough. This has to stop."
Dr. Gibson's letter is nothing more than an attempt to revise history in her favor. Not once does her letter mention Eminent Domain, yet every time we have been contacted by the Attorney General’s Office they have threatened it. It seems to me that their only intent is to secure someone else’s property by intimidation, and if that doesn’t work, then by force of law if necessary.
I resent the University's attempt to do that and I resent now, in the face of public protest, what I see as Dr. Gibson's attempt to pretend that it never happened in the first place. It did happen. And it could still happen. And, if we don't stop it here, it will happen.