Chairman Stan Sarman opened the Sept. 23 meeting of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority and Tax Increment Zone No. 10 (TIRZ) by asking Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin if he had any remarks to make to the directors. Martin had plenty, beginning with a demand for an explanation.
“Where do we stand on the lawsuits on the land for condemnation,” he asked, referring to the right of way land acquisitions needed to get construction started on the Northpark Drive Overpass Mobility Project.
Sarman advised there are currently five parcels of land that are in different phases of condemnation and noted the phase each was in. Martin responded:
“In particular, the piece of land with Exxon: I want to know the last thing on that because I got the email on the absurd price,” he said. Ralph De Leon, administrator for the authority, responded with the details.
Landmark Industries owns several hundred stations in the Houston region, including the Exxon on Northpark Drive, just off Interstate 69.
“We had an offer of $1.1 million. They came back at $3.3 million, and the special commission awarded $4.5 million,” he said and explained the authority has three weeks to file objections. “We are planning to meet with you and Carol (Haddock, director of the city public works department) next week,” De Leon said. Martin noted he wanted Haddock in the meeting because they needed to look at all options the city has in order to resolve the issue.
“It is absurd and I want the community to understand that when we go through this process, there is our price and their price, and then a commissioners court or whatever decides on a higher price. This is a company that owns a lot of these types of businesses in our area and I would say that our community has been very good to them from a business standpoint. We have had a good relationship, so I hope they look at this with the understanding that the community has been very good to this company and the city has been very good to this company allowing those businesses to prosper. This is taxpayer money that we are using to pay for the condemnation of the land to do this project and I hope they take all those things into consideration when we reach the final number,” Martin said. He said he even wondered if the higher number provided by the commissioners was some kind of penalty for taking a tough stand to help our residents in Elm Grove with flooding issues.
Martin said that if it were up to him and they, the company in question, come back with this absurd final number, it is time to find other options.
“I think we develop another path to go over them, around them, through them or whatever we need to do to get this [overpass] project done,” Martin said and emphasized he does not think the situation is to that point yet, but he hopes the owners of the land involved can hear him.
“I hope that the folks that award this decision can hear me. Period. Exclamation point!” Martin said. He said we are all trying to do this great project for the good and safety of the area and we have been working on it for far too long.
“This part of the process is what slows us down and when you get figures like this, now we are having to battle over the numbers and slow us down even more. We need to put shovels in the ground and get this going. It’s all about safety. We got lucky with Ike. We got lucky that it did not do what it did to Louisiana where it sat and dumped. We all know what happens to Kingwood when a hurricane comes. We become an island and this road takes us into a new level of evacuation route,” Martin said. As he prepared to leave the meeting to attend other obligations, he concluded his remarks:
“More importantly, we want to keep moving forward with a great working relationship of the gentlemen, gentle ladies and the company that owns many Exxons and many Shell stations with the nice logo that says TimeWise on it. We have been very good to them and they have been very good to us, so we like that relationship,” Martin said.
In other business, Justin Jenkins presented the final audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. There were no questions from the directors and they formally approved and adopted it.
However, when the Friendswood Development representative, Brian Gibson, later presented his routine monthly status report, he raised a question about the designation of “final payment” for expenses paid for projects conducted during the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2021.
“We don’t believe that it is final,” he said and explained the company had just recently completed off-site projects and qualifying facility projects. They now know the final totals, so they don’t believe the approved audit totals are actually “final.”
He noted the difference was probably another $2.4 million over what has been paid.
“We need to find a way to get this resolved,” Gibson said.
“In order for us to achieve what you have just described, it would require an amendment to your agreement,” DeLeon said.
DeLeon suggested this was an issue best served in a public forum and explained TIRZ is a public entity and is bound by the approved final audited numbers. He noted this kind of issue has been going on for several years.
At this point, TIRZ lawyer Mark Arnold joined in the discussion and closed it off by stating the issue will demand legal resolution and will not be resolved in this meeting.
“You can have your lawyer contact us; that is perfectly fine. You need to send us a legal letter with your legal analysis of the contract.
“That is what you guys need to do or not do at this point in order to preserve any good will you have with TIRZ. Thank you,” Arnold said.