Developer outlines SID history, restrictions

Friday, January 18, 2013
Developer Tom Dees outlined the history of the Holiday Island SID and what a developer and a SID can legally do at the board's annual orientation meeting Monday. Kathryn Lucariello / Holiday Island News

HOLIDAY ISLAND -- For the first time in the history of new commissioner orientations, developer Tom Dees was included in the agenda, and he spent an hour Monday on the history of the suburban improvement district, on what a developer can do and what the district can do.

Dees also told commissioners he is "getting out" of Holiday Island as soon as he can sell off his remaining properties.

Dees said he had been in the business of planned communities for 43 years and had been involved with Holiday Island for 33 of them. Hired by John Cooper, the developer of several planned communities, Dees was in charge of property owner associations and suburban improvement districts nationwide, and after a year, moved to Cooper headquarters.

He said the Arkansas SID statute was written by Cooper's attorney and filed in 1970. Cooper's brother-in-law filed a "friendly lawsuit" to "see if it would fly," and it went all the way to the Supreme Court.

"At that time, someone asked what the role of the SID was," Dees said. "It's simple: water, sewer, fire and roads. That's it. You can't even do security or have a dog catcher. But if you have amenities, you can do that, too."

Dees went to work for McCullogh Corporation, which built Holiday Island.

"I told them I can't sell this without a clubhouse, so McCullogh gave me $600,000 to build it."

When McCullogh left, it gave the water, sewer and roads to the district and also the recreational facilities. Dees bought Holiday Island from McCullogh for $10 million and became the developer.

The developer "builds the town" and controls zoning and planning, he said. The land is owned by three entities: the developer, the SID and private property owners.

He said HISID's assessment of raw land he owns, based on the 2011 Assessment of Benefits, which zoned all his parcels R-3, is illegal because the district can't zone property.

Chairman Ken Ames thanked Dees for coming and acknowledged the district was probably "outside the bounds" of what they could do, but added they are "working on it" and "can't do it in one day," he said.

Nevertheless, it may be too little too late. Dees said he is 73 years old and trying to retire. He said it takes "passion, time and money" to be the developer, and he doesn't have it anymore.

"I'm done," he said.

A "for sale" sign went up earlier this week at the Information Center at the Hwy. 23 North entrance to Holiday Island. The building is owned by developer Tom Dees, who says he is trying to retire. Kathryn Lucariello / Holiday Island News

This week, he put a "for sale" sign up at the Information Center building at the Hwy. 23 North entrance to Holiday Island. The building currently houses his realty office, which has no sales staff, and Vacation Rentals, which conducts its own business but acts as a quasi-Chamber of Commerce for visitors, handing out community information and providing wi-fi, coffee and restrooms.

Dees said that planned communities are "very fragile."

"You have 5,000 lots and 1,000 houses, so 80 percent of your property owners are non-resident. You need to be nice to those people."

In answer to some in the community who believe Dees has looked out only for his own interests, he said, "I have 33 years in here and put in a lot of money. I'm going down with you. Why would I want to destroy the district? You don't kill your baby."

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