City votes to pay $1.2 million for ex-U.S. Rep’s property without a plan for what to do with it

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog

Peter Deutsch

In a $1.2 million “bitter-sweet” land deal, Hallandale Beach City Commissioners has agreed to buy nearly 2 acres owned by former US Congressman Peter Deutsch and his partners to solve a community dispute.

The city has no immediate plans for the land, which will be paid for with tax dollars from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.

A plan by Deutsch to build a Ben Gamla charter school on the land, 1.9 acres at 416 NE Eighth Ave., had become the target of neighborhood complaints and worries about traffic.

“I’m glad it is resolved,” said Deutsch, of the city commission decision reached Wednesday night. “It’s bitter-sweet. Obviously we wanted a school there. It was clear the city did not want a school at the site.”

Mired in a public dispute for years, school officials told the city in May they would put the property up for sale, according to City Manager Mark Antonio. The move marked an about-face for Deutsch’s group – in March the city’s zoning board had recommended approval if certain conditions were met.

“The school would have been too much” for the area to handle, Mayor Joy Cooper said.

The transaction with the city, however, gained extra attention because of the amount of money on the table.

Deutsch and his partners, Hallandale School LLC, will sell the property for $700,000 more than the $500,000 they paid for it in 2008. The former Broward County congressman, also the managing partner of Hallandale School LLC, downplayed how much money his group would make in the transaction.

Legal bills, architects’ fees and the cost of a traffic study, would leave about a $150,000 profit, Deutsch said. The company, which runs an elementary and middle school in Hollywood, as well as a k-8 school in Sunrise, will use the money to fund its business, he said.

Deutsch is the business’s public face. He declined Broward Bulldog’s request to identify other backers of Hallandale School LLC who put up the $500,000 to originally buy the property, saying it was a private company.

The property is assessed at about $900,000. But the city obtained two higher appraisals: L.B. Slater and Company, of Hollywood, pegged the market value at $1.85 million; Robert D. Miller, of Coral Springs, set the value at $1.425 million.

City Manager Mark Antonio

Antonio said the purchase price seemed reasonable compared to the city’s acquisition several years ago of 1/3 of an acre for a park just north of the site for $450,000.

Mike Butler, a resident who writes the blog, said the city has spent about $28 million over the last six or seven years buying land without a particular purpose.

The purchase comes as the city continues to use reserves to keep from running a deficit in its approximately $100 million budget, Butler said.

“I think the city already has enough real estate that it doesn’t know what to do,” Butler said.

Alvin Jackson, director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), said the agency has the money for the school property in the CRA’s $6 million land acquisition allocation. The city commission also acts as the board overseeing the redevelopment agency.

The property, Jackson said, is within the redevelopment district. State law allows the city to collect property tax money in the district and target those dollars for development uses in that area, including recreational, street and utility improvements.

Jackson said no other project was sacrificed to buy the school property and that the dollars used already exist in a land acquisition account.

“I’m very much at peace,” Deutsch said, “with the decision” to sell to the city. He added the school would be looking at other available locations in the city for a school.

Although area residents opposed the project, there were few speakers at Wednesday’s meeting.

One of those, however, was Barbara Southwick. She told city commissioners while she was concerned about “the profiting from” the sale to the city, she nevertheless supported the acquisition. She said the northeast section is the only area of the city lacking “an indoor” facility.

The $1.2 million price could be reduced by $100,000 if the synagogue currently on the land vacates the property within six months after final execution of the contract between the city and Hallandale School LLC.

The $100,000, according to the agreement, would be used to pay the city rent if the synagogue is still occupying the property after the six month period – at a rate of about $5,800 per month, until the amount is exhausted if still occupied.

City and Hallandale School LLC officials, however, said the synagogue is expected to vacate within six months of finalization of the sale.


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