By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
The Hallandale Beach Community Redevelopment Agency has rolled the dice over the past five years by investing $23.5 million in tax dollars in real estate it often had only vague plans for – and like other land speculators the agency finds itself losing big.
The market value of Community Redevelopment Agency’s (CRA) nine large parcels has plummeted to $9.1 million, according to market value estimates listed in Broward County property records. The hit to the city is compounded because the land is also off the tax rolls – spelling the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in lost annual revenue.
The tracts are among the most expensive purchased by agency, which is controlled by the mayor and city commissioners. Only one of the nine parcels has been developed for a public purpose.
“There’s been a lack of leadership and vision,” said City Commissioner Keith London, who blamed Mayor Joy Cooper and former city manager Mike Good for the land acquisitions that haven’t produced significant public use.
Good was fired in June 2010 and could not be reached for comment.
The agency spent $28 million on buying land from 2001 to 2010, although some parcels were obtained at no cost. The redevelopment agency owns about 85 sites throughout the city. Three-fourths of the city falls within the CRA district, which collects property taxes to be used for property acquisitions and to promote business growth through loans and other programs.
The CRA’s land acquisitions and other agency practices came under criticism in a draft of an outside audit obtained in September by Broward Bulldog. City officials ordered the audit in the wake of concerns about the management of the CRA.
The draft stated that Hallandale Beach had failed to adequately track the various transactions, noting information and documents could not be readily located in city files.
CRA LAND HOLDINGS
Here’s a breakdown on the land purchases and estimated value listed by the Broward County Property Appraiser:
- Three properties near City Hall, 7.6 acres, were purchased for $18 million in September 2007 for expansion of Bluesten Park as part of a green area in the center of the city. The total current market value: $7.6 million.
- Property on Ansin Boulevard, 2.87 acres, was purchased for $2.9 million in June 2006 for a trash transfer project that failed to get underway after Northwest section residents objected to the facility. Excess city vehicles are being stored on the land. The current value: $1.1 million.
- Four parcels in the 500 block of Northwest First Avenue and nearby North Dixie Highway, totaling just over one acre, were purchased for a total of $2.1 million in 2006 for revitalization in the city’s northwest area. The current value is $333,600.
- The property at 800 NE Fifth Street, one-third of an acre, was purchased for $450,000 in December 2007. It was developed as Sunrise Park. The current market value is $185,000.
Even at the current deflated property values, the eight undeveloped parcels could have generated about $50,000 revenue in city property taxes this year.
The city has been planning uses for the sites, according to Mayor Joy Cooper, “But it’s not the ideal time to move forward.”
She also says citing the market value for the land doesn’t necessarily equate to the price paid especially when considering the public purpose, like park development.
London, however, says at the time in 2008 when the city purchased property around city hall, nearby Aventura built and opened Waterways Park.
“That’s the difference between having a plan and no plan,” he said.
Cooper deflects London’s criticism saying the properties were purchased before the current economic downtown and subsequent real estate crash.
“We purchased the land at the height of the (real estate) market,” she said. “I can’t be a Monday morning quarterback.”
BETTING ON GAMBLING AND A REBOUND
According to the mayor, Hallandale Beach will be in an ideal position to expand the city hall park area and to establish affordable housing in the neighborhoods with the acquired properties when the economy improves, especially if the state approves casino gambling.
On Tuesday, The Miami Herald reported that a Las Vegas group was purported to be in negotiations with Gulfstream Park to vie for a license if the state decides to authorize casino gambling.
When the economy improves, Cooper also said, the properties in the Northwest section of the city will be ideal for development of affording housing for residents in that area and the city will more than ever need to develop the acquired property around city hall for park use.
The CRA, however, has purchased property to resolve disputes in the community.
In a $1.2 million land deal, the city used CRA money to purchase nearly 2 acres owned by former US Congressman Peter Deutsch and his partners. The city bought the 1.9 acres to prevent a charter school planned by Deutsch from being built in the 400 block of Northeast Eighth Avenue. Nearby residents had sharply opposed the project citing traffic and other concerns.
There are no immediate plans for development of the parcel.
CRA Director Alvin Jackson, appointed in January, also notes that he has found no specific plan for use of the various properties the CRA has acquired since 2001. But, Jackson said the city apparently acted when the opportunity arose to buy land for future uses.
Aside from building of Sunrise Park, Jackson said some CRA acquired land has been used for an affordable housing project being built by a private developer and for single-family home construction.
Jackson said he plans to identify potential uses for all the CRA acquired land as part of a comprehensive plan his office is creating.
London is still skeptical.
“We have no plans” that are specific for these and other acquired properties, the commission complained, adding “we have no money” to carry out any plans even if they existed.
William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org