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Tag Archives: real estate development

Subdivision developer gets nailed for assessments and has no special developer rights


Missouri Western District Court of Appeals just affirmed a trial court’s judgment in a way that will resound with homeowners’ association (HOA) boards across the state, many of which are struggling to raise sufficient revenues to take care of streets and amenities, even though many of the developer-owned lands that benefit from the streets are apparently exempt from assessments.

Lenders that have foreclosed on developers may find that this opinion undermines the lenders’ ability to claim to enjoy the developer’s exemption from assessments on lender-owned land. Parties purchasing land from lenders, hoping to have the status of the former developer, may find themselves heavily in debt to the HOA, perhaps blaming the lenders who sold them the land.

In Woodglen Estates Association v. Dulaney, Dulaney obtained 17 parcels of land from the FDIC. This land had once been owned the original developer Braeman, then passed through the hands of a few different parties, before ending up with the FDIC, which had taken the parcels of land from a failed bank.

The Woodglen Estates Association hired an auditor to review its finances. The auditor discovered that land owned by Dulaney had not been assessed for several years. The association then sued Dulaney, and Dulaney asserted two defenses:

  • As successor to the original developer, Dulaney should be exempt from assessments on land it owned.
  • Much of the land that Dulaney owned in Woodglen was in “parcels,” not having been subdivided into “units,” so that it should not be assessed.

The appellate court looked at the line of Missouri case law that holds that the special rights and privileges of a developer, typically reserved in the declaration of covenants for the subdivision, do not automatically pass with ownership of the developer’s real estate. These rights, called “developer rights,” “declarant rights” or “development rights,” may be assigned, but a party claiming to hold these rights has to be able to prove to have acquired them by assignment. Dulaney had no proof of assignment of declarant rights.

To make matters worse for Dulaney, the Woodglen declaration did not contain an exemption for the developer’s real estate–which is a common feature of declarations–and the appellate court noted that developers do not receive an automatic exemption. Under current Missouri law, other than in condominiums, a developer may lawfully reserve an exemption from assessment for its own real estate. The original developer simply failed to create the exemption when filing the declaration and made the mistake of including land in the declaration that was not ready to be developed.

Dulaney argued that its “parcels” were not subject to assessment, since only “units” and “unit owners’ could be assessed. The appellate court noted that some of the declaration’s provisions were ambiguous when addressing the respective rights of owners of units and parcels, but the assessment provisions were clear:  “each owner shall be obligated to pay to the Board such sum as shall have been established….,” without distinguishing between owners of units and parcels. The legal description attached to the declaration had included Dulaney’s parcel, placing this land under the provision of the declaration.

For lenders, the lesson is that any loan documents for a development loan should include a security interest in the declarant rights, and any documents showing the recovery of the developer’s real estate should include a specific assignment of the declarant rights. When the lender sells the former developer’s property, the conveyances to the purchaser should include the assignment of declarant rights. These issues are covered in more detail in this essay.

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Table Rock Lake and the cost of economic activity

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Kathleen O’Dell’s article about the economic impact of Table Rock Lake in today’s Springfield News-Leader, entitled “Table Rock Dam Gives Much Back to Area,” covers a lot of ground in describing the various kinds of economic activities that are related to the construction and continued existence of Table Rock Lake.

In an economic sense, is the Table Rock Lake area fit (efficient and nimble) or obese (expensive to maintain and subject to falls)? As pointed out below, the two counties most affected by Table Rock Lake have experienced the area’s lowest growth in Read the rest of this entry

Eureka School District loses TIF battle


School districts are the natural enemies of tax-increment financing projects (TIFs). The TIF designation of a redevelopment area limits a school district’s share of the increases in property taxes that occur in that redevelopment area, diverting what would have been the school district’s share of property taxes to paying for a portion of the developer’s cost of infrastructure.

On February 24, 2009, Missouri’s Eastern District Court of Appeals issued its opinion Read the rest of this entry

Calico Sunrise: watch what happens


Residents of the Calico Rock area, on the White River in north central Arkansas, are attempting to plan their future. They have created a blog called Calico Sunrise to serve as a newsletter and forum for their endeavor, which is intended to involve the input of all segments of the community.

The Calico Rock area is lovely, and it looks like a great place to live and to visit. It is similar to the Branson area in a purely physical sense–it is in the Ozarks on the White River with a railroad running alongside, there are lakes nearby, and there are wonderful bluffs and vistas and smaller streams in deep, quiet valleys. While there is some tourism there and a lot of retirees, the tourism lacks the industrial-strength tourism of Branson. In some ways, Calico Rock is what Branson might have been without Silver Dollar City and the music show industry.

I wish the people of Calico Rock well. I hope they will focus on health rather than growth, so that they can have the community they want and stay off the economic roller-coaster. To do this, they will need to look at giving their children great educations and building an economy with an export sector, rather than too heavily based on tourism.

In praise of real estate developers


Much of my work in the past decade has involved representation of real estate developers, though they are fading fast. Though my firm has other sources of revenue–municipalities, lenders and homeowner associations–I really miss the developers, because I admire their courage and enjoy their personalities and optimistic approach to life. All of them are low, and some of them are sunk. Most of them will pop back up eventually: they’re buoyant.

It bothers me to hear people talk about how bad they are and how, in this downturn, they’re getting what they deserve.

Developers are easy targets. They send in bulldozers and push over trees. They cause erosion. They would rather apologize later than ask permission. In other words, they have the energy required to plan and execute capital intensive projects, requiring personal financial risks and coordination of dozens of others–lenders, contractors, subcontractors, architects, engineers, lawyers, escrow companies, mortgage underwriters, insurance agencies, etc.

The result is that we have houses, streets, places to shop, and places to work. Read the rest of this entry

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