Brothers call land fight a shady deal

March 10, 2008 5:48:09 PM PDT
They thought they would be set for life. Two brothers bought a piece of land several years back, hoping to cash in on the future. But instead, the brothers say they are being ripped off. The land, in Houston's Galleria area, is worth thousands of dollars. Now the brothers are fighting to get what they say they deserve for it.

"This whole area, everything you see here, was small frame houses," James Collins recalled.

When 75-year-old twin brothers Jock and James Collins visit their property, they see a healthy retirement. But as of late, city officials see a city park.

"I think we're being ripped off," James said.

It began several years ago, when the brothers began negotiating with Ed Wulfe. The Houston developer wanted the land as part of his 21 acre boulevard place. But when negotiations fell through, the brothers were shocked that suddenly the city had an interest. Even more concerning, the city was now using eminent domain to take over the land, offering half what the developer did.

City attorney Arturo Michel explained, "I think for the city to get its full value, and because there is also a need for green space, particularly in that area, that it makes sense for the city to proceed to condemn that entire tract."

Michel says acquisition of land for parks has been done before. We requested locations and dates, however, that information has yet to be turned over.

"It's rare," Michel admitted. "The city tries to avoid using its eminent domain powers."

The brothers believe the condemnation was more of a favor to Wulfe and his project, a charge both Wulfe and the city deny.

"We couldn't make a deal," Wulfe said. "As a result, we decided we would go on without them. We didn't need it."

Either way, the brothers plan to fight the current offer, hoping a jury will give them a retirement gift they both feel they deserve.

Jock Collins said, "I guess if you can't buy it, you go get your friends together and find some way to get around it. That's what happened."

The current offer is about $750,000. The brothers say their property is worth more like $1.4 million, and they plan to take that figure to court.

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