Michael Mayo, News Columnist
February 22, 2009
The Hallandale Beach City Commission moves in mysterious ways. Take the case of Higher Vision Ministries and the Eagle’s Wings Development Center in the city’s impoverished northwest area.
At a hastily called Feb. 12 special meeting, the commission approved buying the church-owned property where the Eagle’s Wings community center stands for $235,000.
That’s $35,000 more than the city’s most recent appraisal of the land (in November), nearly $90,000 more than the value listed by the Broward property appraiser and $190,000 more than the church paid for the land in 2001.
Considering the way the economy and local real estate market have been tanking, that’s a pretty sweet deal for Higher Visions.
So who runs the church and the social-service center? Pastor Anthony Sanders.
The same Anthony Sanders who’s a Hallandale Beach commissioner.
“We were supposed to do this two years ago, long before I was on the commission,” Sanders said Friday. “Back in early 2007, the price was $350,000. This should have been done a long time ago, but the city kept dragging its feet.”
Sanders, elected to the commission in November after being appointed last summer, abstained from the 3-1 vote. He said the price was fair, noting two other appraisals that valued the property at $275,000 and $230,000.
But one city-sponsored appraisal put it at $147,000, and the most recent valued it at $200,000.
Given the circumstances, Commissioner Keith London (the lone dissenter) said the city should have waited longer. Or at least had the sense to take up the matter as a clearly labeled agenda item at a regular commission meeting.
The land purchase wasn’t listed on the agenda for the special meeting. It was brought up as “other business” during the session called by Mayor Joy Cooper on an unrelated matter. The meeting wasn’t held in the commission’s usual spot where sessions are videotaped, but instead was in an upstairs room without cameras.
“Does this pass the smell test?” said London. “I don’t think so.”
You’d think Hallandale Beach commissioners, who took a public relations pounding for engineering a pay raise in a similarly sneaky way a couple years ago, would have learned by now.
The city, through its Community Redevelopment Agency, has vague plans to build an affordable housing project on the block where the center stands.
“We’re doing it for the good of many, many people in Hallandale,” said Vice Mayor Bill Julian, who approved the deal with Cooper and Commissioner Dorothy Ross.
London didn’t understand the rush: “If somebody said we have to buy this parcel by a certain date to complete a plan or it will fall through, then I could see doing it. But there is no plan.”
I called City Manager Mike Good to get their version of events but didn’t hear back.
Sanders said the deal closed on Feb. 13, the day after the special meeting, with the money already in the bank. The Eagle’s Wings center hasn’t been given an eviction date, he said. The center, which provides computer and other training classes and submits food-stamp applications for residents, was open on Friday.
“Is it standard to buy a property from a commissioner and then let them use it rent-free?” London said.
Sanders said London is grousing because of “envy.”
“This isn’t a personal thing,” London said. “It’s a finance issue.”
Sanders’ church bought the property for $45,000 in 2001. Eagle’s Wings has received $130,000 in city grant money this decade, along with county and state contracts. The nonprofit agency’s 2007 tax return listed income of $113,190 in government grants.
Sanders, a longtime activist in the northwest area, said the city’s purchase of the property is “just a drop in the bucket,” noting the $12 million the city spent to acquire land for a park in a better part of town.
Sanders has been critical of the redevelopment agency’s stagnant efforts in the northwest. Two-thirds of Hallandale Beach falls within the CRA boundaries, including robust areas near Gulfstream Park.
“When the economy was up, we didn’t do anything [in northwest] and now the economy is down and they say we can’t do anything,” said Sanders. “So when can you do something?”
Seems like Sanders’ commission colleagues have already done plenty for him.