Planeview grocery developer gets tax break despite history of housing violations

Rob Snyder, a developer seeking city incentives to build a grocery store, has a huge stock of low-income housing and one of the city's highest volumes of code violations to go with it.

The maintenance problems have gone on for years, and they are well-known to people in Planeview — where he has dozens of houses and apartments — and to city code inspectors who have cited his properties 289 times in the past decade. The city has closed 182 of those cases.

Snyder said some code problems should be expected given the 700 or so properties he owns, and that his investment has done far more good than harm for the community.

Last week, Wichita City Council members voted to let Snyder add an extra 2 percent sales tax on every purchase at the proposed Save-A-Lot grocery store at George Washington Boulevard and Pawnee.

The city said it had already conducted a background check that unearthed many of the code violations, and some council members said they knew Snyder had some housing maintenance problems.

But that information wasn't disclosed to council members or the public until Tuesday — just before the council voted to set a Nov. 2 public hearing where they'll decide whether to also let Snyder divert $403,800 of his own property taxes over 20 years to help pay off loans on parts of the development.

"I didn't see it as an issue that would need to be brought to their (council members') attention," said Allen Bell, the city's director of urban development.

The disclosure came after The Eagle pressed for that information.

The city's background check failed to show code violations for one of Snyder's companies, Midwest Ventures. The city also thought it had lost a questionnaire that asks developers to disclose court activity, owed taxes and other issues.

It turns out, Bell said, the city never had Snyder fill one out.

"We thought that he had already done it," Bell said. "It was just a mistake that we had made."

It would not have weighed heavily on those making final decisions.

Five council members interviewed Tuesday say that the housing violations and $259 in 2009 property taxes Snyder owes wouldn't have changed their minds.

Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell and council members Jim Skelton, Sue Schlapp, Lavonta Williams and Janet Miller say the project is needed and that they don't see a strong connection between code violations and tax incentives that will fund the grocery store.

They also note that the incentives don't put the city at risk since the money comes from additional taxes on sales and, if they approve it in November, from a portion of the property taxes that Snyder pays.

Skelton, whose district includes Planeview, said he doesn't discount Snyder's code problems. But he said people have been hoping for a nearby grocery store for years.

Snyder is the only one with a plan, he said.

"This is an opportunity that presents itself once," he said. "Sometimes you have to put the needs of the people before other things."

Skelton also said Snyder is an active member of the Planeview community.

Snyder, who is married to KAKE News anchor Susan Peters, was on the city's housing advisory board, which offers suggestions to the City Council and city manager on neighborhood revitalization, housing conditions and more. The board recently disbanded.

Improvements to area

Snyder said he has improved a withering neighborhood by buying abandoned homes, repairing them and renting them for a few hundred dollars a month.

Those improvements span 13 years, since he bought an apartment complex that had been vacant for years, he said.

Snyder says his roughly $6 million in improvements have boosted property values and quality of life.

"The bottom line is that, as somebody has properties in Hilltop and Planeview, they're going to have housing violations," he said.

He said he feels that he has been subject to more scrutiny than other property owners.

He said he has been tackling as many cases as he and his management company can afford to, and he said it's difficult to keep up when many residents struggle to get by each day and don't maintain things.

"You just try to provide the best, clean house knowing that if you go in there in six months or eight months it's probably going to be trashed," he said. "We're doing as good as we can and still be able to pay the bills."

He said that his tenants and others deserve the handy grocery story they've been hoping for for years. And he said he doesn't expect the store to provide much — if any — profit for him.

"To demonize me and Save-A-Lot for trying to put a supermarket over there is the craziest thing in the world," he said.

Code violations

Snyder has had 289 code cases filed against him or his related companies, Central Plains Development and Midwest Ventures, in the past decade.

City records obtained by The Eagle earlier this week show Snyder and his companies have at least 24 active housing cases.

A spreadsheet of Snyder's cases compiled by the Office of Central Inspection upon The Eagle's request includes 242 housing code violations and 47 neglected and vacant building cases.

Of those, Snyder has resolved 182, been warned, notified or fined on 83, and 24 remain active cases.

Among the active violations are neglected and boarded-up buildings, inoperable vehicles parked on yards, trash and debris, construction work without permits and tall weeds and grass.

The violations are spread across the city.

Records show that Central Plains Development, which is prominent in Planeview, has had more than 100 code violations cited since 2000, many involving several problems at one property.

Fifty-eight of those have been closed, typically because the problems were addressed. Another 33 cases led to violation notices. Seven cases remain open.

There are also 33 closed vacant-and-neglected cases, and the company was fined three times because it didn't follow through with the city to address problems or produce a plan for the property.

Records show Snyder has 65 closed cases, 13 violations and six active cases under his name.

The rest of the violations are for properties held by Midwest Ventures.

One of the ongoing cases against Snyder involves tall weeds and grass on the plot of land where he plans to build the Save-A-Lot store and strip mall.

The vegetation was still visible Tuesday afternoon.