Tarrant Regional Water District is like the 900-pound gorilla in the kiddie pool — it does what it wants. Last week’s Static talked about how the governmental agency charged with providing water and preventing flooding in North Texas wiped out a stand of old-growth trees to make it easier for workers to lower a drainage pipe into place (“Timber!” Nov. 2, 2016). Agency officials don’t plan on re-planting any trees to make up for the loss of shade along the Trinity Trail.
This week, we’ll examine how the water district recently prevailed in a state district court against the Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD), the county agency that appraises property for tax purposes.
The water district owns the land where celebrity chef Tim Love manages his Woodshed Smokehouse next to the Trinity River near TCU. The water district’s Trinity River Vision Authority spent more than $2 million building the restaurant shell and sprucing up the surrounding property and then entered into an agreement with Love to finish out the building, operate the restaurant, and pay a lease based on his revenues.
Love and water district officials put targets on their backs after working out an exclusive no-bid contract behind closed doors. Cries of cronyism rained down after the deal was announced. The anger was probably heated even more because it involved the controversial Love, whose prickly personality rubs many people the wrong way.
Under the arrangement, a private restaurant (mostly paid for by taxpayers) was allowed to operate on public land and avoid property taxes (since public entities don’t pay taxes). The parking lot, the grounds, and the nearby Trinity Trail, all used by the public, are exempt from taxes. TAD officials figured that the portion of the property not being used for public purposes, such as the restaurant building, should be taxed.
Love paid his tax bill but challenged the decision in court. Love’s legal team sought a summary judgment, and State District Judge Wade Birdwell agreed that land leased from a public agency is exempt from property taxes.
So, love may still be prickly, but he is right.