King Fisher Creek: It's Back!

Kensington Park Neighborhood Association President Lee Sloan and his neighbors thought the Parker Springs low-income condominium complex, which sits half-finished off East St. Elmo Road in southeast Austin, was dead. Last December, Parker Springs developers King Fisher Creek Ltd. failed to finish construction in time to begin moving folks into the 35-unit complex by Dec. 31, the deadline to get $2.25 million in tax credits from the Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs. In January, TDHCA sent a letter to King Fisher revoking the tax credits.

But recently Sloan -- who had joined many of his neighbors in protesting the development due to concerns about the environment, safety, and compatibility -- discovered that in March King Fisher approached the TDHCA board of directors seeking reinstatement of the tax credits and won. Sloan considers the board's decision "inappropriate," particularly in light of TDHCA staff's own recommendation to deny the credits. TDHCA spokesman Gordon Anderson says no one at the agency could recall a similar instance of a developer losing their tax credits, then winning them back.

In his appeal to the board, King Fisher developer Tom McMullen blamed construction delays on area neighborhood groups, as well as on the city of Austin's extensive public input process and on rainy weather. "We have been engaged in a chess match with the neighborhood association, [that] has done everything they can to thwart our project," lamented McMullen, who is based in Tampa, Fla. A "huge" difference between Austin's city code and those of other cities is that it allows neighborhood associations to have standing in all permitting processes, he continued. "Neighborhood tactics were designed to cause us to miss threshold department deadlines," McMullen asserted.

Some TDHCA board members challenged that position. "The arguments that there are certain citizens out there that kind of pursued their rights does not sway me a whole lot," board Chair Michael Jones commented, before the board approved the deal. Anderson says King Fisher has agreed to abide by rules and deadlines that are more stringent than when they initially applied for the credits; King Fisher also had to repay commitment fees. "The board didn't give them carte blanche to take their time and not put action to their words," Anderson said. (Additionally, the city has waived $37,358 in fees for King Fisher through its S.M.A.R.T. housing program.)

Sloan speculates that the board acted, in part, out of fear that King Fisher would sue the agency. Last year, he and other neighborhood residents got letters from McMullen that appeared to threaten a "SLAPP" ("strategic lawsuit against public participation") suit against them for fighting the project. In his appeal to the TDHCA board, McMullen said that if the tax credits weren't restored, "that poses a small possibility ... because we don't know what's going to happen."

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