Greed Hasn't Won on Mueller Deal – Yet

RECEIVED Tue., July 20, 2004

Dear Editor,
   The 7-0 council vote to sell the developer our former Mueller airport site doesn't quite yet mean "greed won," which we had concluded and the Chronicle quoted, June 18 ["Mueller in the Middle," News] – from our never-printed letter to its editor ["Postmarks Online," April 16]. Citizen input did clear up why, in contrast to varied reasons given for leasing (more revenue, more land-use control), the argument for selling was always "to move ahead" on the master plan: The developer, Catellus, revealed that nothing but selling Mueller to the developer was ever considered during the years Catellus has been exclusively negotiating with the city staff.
   The big hurdle remaining for Catellus and friends is how to get around the Texas Local Government Code that stipulates a government entity, whether selling land or leasing it, must get fair market value. That's so there is never money from land due the city that goes instead into preferred pockets, in this case the pockets of all buyers and sellers of Mueller land, including Catellus stockholders. That could happen if an indifferent City Council lets city staff and developer have the city paying, after the sale, for improvements which, if it paid them before the sale, add to the land's fair market value that the city as the landowner would collect.
   Something is wrong already. The staff showed that after selling Mueller, an incredibly valuable piece of real estate, the city will owe money! After paying new landowner Catellus' infrastructure expenses?
   Watch whether the council allows negotiations to bypass the fair-market-value law and place a huge dent in the city's finances. If somehow found legal, it would make the usual business subsidies the council is fond of making ["Austin@Large," News, July 2] look like chicken feed.
   So tax-burdened Austinites can't say quite yet that greed has won.
Mary Lehmann
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