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Standing firm in their opinion that motorists safety is paramount, on Tuesday night the Forney City Council tabled site plans for a proposed Raising Cane’s restaurant.
Becoming more transparent at each meeting, the City Council thoroughly exposed the fact that the developer of this property did not adhere to the requirements listed within the Request for Proposals (RFP) which legally preceded the developers’ purchase of this property from the city.
At their August 2, 2016 meeting, the council declined to give approval to site plans presented by Raising Cane’s in order to further discuss with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) the serious nature of traffic congestion at this intersection.
Opening the discussion by addressing Development Director Peter Morgan, Mayor Pro-tem Stephens asked, “Peter, did this plat meet the RFP that we put out when we initially offered this property out for bid? Did it meet all the requirements of that RFP?”
To which Director Morgan replied, “Plats I mean, I don’t really review off of RFP’s so I can’t really hold any of those sentences to a plat requirement.”
After having the actual RFP brought up on to the overhead projector screen, Mayor Pro-tem Stephens used the published council proposal as reference.
Stephens stated, “I want to understand so that I’ll know I’ve made the right decision. That is the RFP we sent out for the commercial property, right, when we offered the property for anyone to make purchases. Please scroll down to page two. I know there is a lot of public interest in this. Look it clearly says, “the site does not allow for left turn access from FM 548, right in - right out is acceptable on FM 548.”
Speaking directly to Director Peter Morgan and EDC Director Warren Ketteman, Stephens said “So I guess that’s what has led to my confusion because it’s a safety concern that we had back then. We discussed this from the very beginning. It was always a concern which has led up to our discussing our concerns at the last meeting with the developer.”
Answering, Director Ketteman replied “All RFP’s are supplied to all developers.”
Stephens said, “You asked the council to make a decision last time, and in my opinion, based on safety concerns, the same concerns we voiced in the beginning. We started this process eighteen months to two years ago. So I’m kind of curious if it’s possible that we can work with the developer and see if they can meet those terms.”
Stephens stated, “I don’t know if I’m wording it correctly, but I know that last time we said we really want Raising Cane’s. I love Raising Cane’s. I ate lunch there, in Keller. But this was listed as a right in right out. In fact, I visited 15 of them, Raising Cane’s, this weekend to verify and they were all right in right out entrances. From here to Houston, all right in right out.”
Pointing at the RFP displayed overhead, Stephens said “And then I look at this right here and wonder how we go about working with the Cane’s developer to meet the requirements that we established in the very beginning.”
Directly addressing the owner of Raising Cane’s, Mayor Pro-tem Stephens said, “I’ll just tell you right to your face, I’d love to see Raising Cane’s come here but this is an important safety deal for us. And I was under the impression that when TxDOT did their traffic study this document was not presented to them. So after showing TxDOT this, I believe we received another letter, I believe the Mayor has that letter.”
Stephens said “I’m just trying to get this all out into the public eye because I want the public to know we’re trying to be transparent. Peter maybe you could read it because we don’t want to be accused of changing the words. We had a meeting with TxDOT this week and they told us they should have been provided this RFP in order for them to make a decision on approving a left turn lane.”
After retrieving the letter from the Mayor, Director Morgan read the TxDOT letter into the record and it indeed authorizes a re-analysis of the traffic at the FM 548 intersection. The TxDOT letter provided Mayor Wilson also states that the council was furnished with reports on the many accidents that have transpired at the FM 548 intersection.
Holding up a large stack of reports, Mayor Rick Wilson said “Here are the forty-nine accident reports they (TxDOT) supplied us. So that is a concern to the community; that there were forty-nine accidents in less than two years at that intersection.”
A full blown argument ensued after it was explained that the RFP awarded to the developer provided for a deed restriction which prohibits any business leasing the property from constructing a left turn into the property from FM 548.
Stepping to the podium Raising Cane’s Attorney Bill Dawson said, “That’s the first time I’ve seen that. I’m not prepared to talk about an RPP or what was in the RFP. I don’t know what the deal was as far as the acquisition of the land. I wasn’t involved in that. As far as I know, the plat conforms to all the required codes and ordinances.”
Forcefully, attorney Dawson stated “This is a very serious matter to us. The owner risks losing Cane’s if this plat is not approved. And the owner risks losing the property as part of the deed restrictions put on by the EDC. So this is a very serious matter to the developer. If this plat is denied, we suffer significantly. So it’s our position that we do satisfy the state law according to the rules and regulations that are in effect for this plat. So this is a very serious matter to us.”
Calmly responding, Mayor Wilson said “Absolutely. And we want you to realize we’re taking it very seriously. And we want to accommodate the developer but the history behind the purchase of that property was stated such so that we could control that unique piece of property. Its cornered by railroad tracks with no red light and an intersection, so the city took a stand and purchased the property to make sure. That’s why the RFP was appropriately written and worded that way to notify the respondents.”
Arguing his point, Attorney Dawson said “I don’t know what was negotiated just that these requirements were not incorporated into the property transaction or made part of the transaction. This is not part of the city ordinance.”
Mayor Wilson responded, “We know Raising Cane’s is a great corporation and we’d like them to come to Forney. But having an issue in this intersection the way that we do, I’d think Raising Cane’s should be concerned enough to make sure their customers are safe. So we’d like to reach a compromise with them if you’d like to take a few minutes to go talk with them.”
Before the contingent of Raising Cane’s representatives could exit the room property developer, Bill Toliver, stepped to the microphone to address the council.
Trying to remain composed but clearly angry, the developer said “I ran the acquisition of this project from the very beginning. We do recognize that this was part of the RFP and I haven’t discussed this with counsel for review simply because the RFP was a document we looked at and submitted an offer for, but none of terms or requirements in the RFP is incorporated in any part of the contract or the deed. None of this was part of the transaction whatsoever.”
Toliver stated “That’s just a wish list. Things that a municipality put together for request for proposals for offers for developers, to put in offers for this property. So I want to make sure the fact that we did pursue many, many users based on right in right out turn action, and we had a fully signed lease agreement with Cane’s.”
Explaining his collaborations with former city manager Brian Brooks, the developer stated, “And a right in turn action was not going to be sufficient for their use, and they’d stated they would terminate the lease if we couldn’t give them a left turn in. So I sat down with the City Manager and we decided we needed to go to TxDOT since this is a TxDOT road, and apply for a Variance to the traffic impact analysis. And show them exactly why this works and why it’s safe and let them decide.”
With considerable arrogance, Toliver said, “And at the end of the day, if this action can’t get approved I have pretty strict orders from Raising Cane’s that they want to terminate the lease. So I don’t know what that does for anybody but like our attorney said, none of this made it into the contract.”
Clearly taking offense, Mayor Pro-tem Ray Stephens stated, “We’ve met with TxDOT. Like I said a minute ago, TxDOT said they would not have made the decision without looking at that RFP. Let me make that clear to you, that was three days ago. We got this proof in the meeting we just had with them. I think they would have looked at it in a different light. They were under the impression that the city had no issue with safety concerns. They had no idea. That came right out of their mouths. Now they know. They’ve seen it on paper and they’ve heard our concerns.”
Mayor Pro-tem Stephens said “We want to work with you but we put that out there. Raising Cane’s has numerous locations that have right in right out entrances because I’ve driven to them. So we really want you here, but I will not compromise my one vote. I cannot compromise the safety of the citizens knowing that many accidents happen and what could happen in the future, just to get another small restaurant. I really want you here but the safety of our citizen’s means more to me than some chicken, no disrespect intended.”
When no further comments were forthcoming from the Council, the representatives from Raising Cane’s stepped outside to privately discuss their options to withdraw their site plans in order to remove the FM 548 entrance, or to watch the council deny final site plan approval.
After approximately twenty minutes the Raising Cane’s representatives returned and the council graciously voted to table the Raising Cane's site plan determination until their next meeting.