The saga continues on and on...
Maharishi project concerns mayor
She says preliminary plat rushed, sees potential conflict of interest
By RACHEL HORTON / The Dallas Morning News
The Colony's Planning and Zoning Commission has approved a preliminary plat presented by the Maharishi Global Development Fund, despite concerns expressed by the mayor.
Commissioners recently voted 6-0 to accept the preliminary plat for a mixed-use development along State Highway 121. But officials attached 11 stipulations because some portions did not adhere to city guidelines, said Harry Persaud, the city's director of development services.
The plat also went forward even though the development plan had not been approved, which Mayor Bernetta Henville-Shannon said is unusual. She also expressed concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
The mayor said the proposal is being rushed through the system without all the necessary elements.
"There's a problem in there somewhere, and I'm not sure where the fault is, but it should have never gone through with all these questions," Henville-Shannon said. "Somebody dropped the ball on not adhering to all of our standards."
The proposed 220-acre development includes retail and office complexes, with several restaurants along the Highway 121 frontage.
The plot is a portion of the site that the Maharishi fund once eyed for the world's tallest skyscraper. It is along the southern frontage of Highway 121, east of Plano Parkway.
"We are pleased with the approval from the city of The Colony and are moving forward as rapidly as possible," Dan Wasielewski, the Maharishi fund's project director for Texas, said in a written response.
The site cannot be developed until a final plat outlining how the land will be subdivided is approved by the commission, Mr. Persaud said.
Problems with the preliminary plat included a failure to label the correct amount of right of way for Plano Parkway and a failure to label the plat with the approved zoning, city records show. The item was approved with stipulations that these and other issues would be resolved.
Other stipulations include requiring the developer to increase the size of water lines and describe how proposed detention facilities would meet the city's drainage requirements.
City officials also included informational notes on the plat requesting engineering plans and a traffic study of the area.
The stipulations were prepared by City Attorney Gordon Hikel, whose firm, Denton-based Hayes, Coffey & Berry, also represents the Maharishi fund in other matters.
The mayor said she will request outside counsel at the next council meeting.
"Knowing that the firm represents the Maharishi on other deals, how in the world can we expect to get fair representation when the one who we're talking with is represented by them as well?" Mrs. Henville-Shannon said.
"I have a hard time with even the appearance of conflict of interest. That's not the way we need to be doing business."
Mr. Wasielewski did not answer questions about whether the Maharishi fund is following proper protocol.
Mr. Persaud said city officials discussed retaining outside counsel about the preliminary plat, but that outside counsel was not ultimately used.
Mr. Hikel did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Recently, Mr. Hikel asked to step down from another city matter involving land owned by the Maharishi fund, citing the appearance of conflict of interest because his law firm represents the Maharishi fund in the state's effort to condemn the land along Highway 121.
Mr. Persaud would not answer directly who made the decision not to seek outside counsel for the preliminary plat, or why.
"There were some gray areas [in the plat] that required legal advice," Mr. Persaud said.
"As the planning director, I sought legal advice. That advice was provided and it was important that the city followed that advice."
The state is suing the fund to acquire part of the land in order to make Highway 121 a freeway between Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas' northern suburbs.
Mr. Hikel's firm also represents real estate consultant Don Blackwood, who represents the Maharishi fund in the current project. Mr. Blackwood did not return a call requesting comment.
The Maharishi fund obtained purchase rights to the land by paying more than $3 million to Mr. Blackwood and two business partners.
One of the partners was Dr. Bill Manning, who was The Colony's mayor at the time and had offered the fund possible city tax breaks.
That matter is under investigation by the FBI.
Dr. Manning has denied any wrongdoing.