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A sight plan for a River Hills Sports Park proposed by a group of sports organizations on Eanes school district land leased by Western Hills Little League on River Hills Road shows eight dedicated fields, four multi-use fields, tennis courts and an indoor facility.

Conflict between property owners and organizers of a sports complex planned for River Hills Road reached a new level Friday when a group of area landowners filed a lawsuit against the Eanes school district and the nonprofit Western Hills Little League.

In March 2011, WHLL signed a 50-year lease with the school district for 50 acres on River Hills Road that the organization hopes to develop into a sports complex. Site plans for the project include eight baseball fields, four football/soccer/lacrosse fields, tennis courts and a 27,000 square-foot indoor sports facility. Neighboring landowners have been vocal in their opposition to the idea, claiming it will create dangerous traffic problems and reduce property values.

Lewis Talbert, David Burch, Glenn Staats and a company named Tires Made Easy, Inc. have filed the suit in Travis County District Court, challenging the validity of the district’s lease with WHLL.

According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim the lease should be declared void because it is for a non-school purpose and interferes with the district’s “use of the subject real property for school purposes.” The lawsuit also claims that the school district is receiving only a “nominal return consideration for the lease.”

“The plaintiffs believe that this lease is unconstitutional and illegal, said Leonard Smith, the lawyer representing the landowners. “The lease is a sweetheart deal that was specially created by friendly school board members at the behest of well-connected and politically powerful people who sought to use school property for non-school purposes.”

The request for proposals the district issued prior to leasing the properties was designed to elicit only one response, Leonard said.

“The result is that a valuable piece of land purchased by EISD’s taxpayers to be used for school purposes is not being used for school purposes, and it is not being paid for in a way that helps EISD to deliver educational services to its students,” he said.

Eanes school board president Kal Kallison said the district would continue to work with River Hills residents to find a solution to concerns.

“We live in a vibrant community with many needs and interests; Eanes ISD signed the lease two years ago in an attempt to meet the needs of all of our community, but specifically the children and adults who would benefit from a multi-use sports facility,” Kallison said. “Notwithstanding the lawsuit filed today, we will continue to work to assure that the River Hills facility is a successful venture for everyone involved and impacted by its development and use.”

Greg Rives, WHLL president, said the lawsuit was not a surprise and that the organization is assembling legal representation.

“We value our relationship with the Eanes school district and look forward to resolving this and moving forward,” Rives said.

According to Travis Central Appraisal District records, Talbert and Burch own land on River Hills Road close to the proposed project. TCAD records also indicate that Tires Made Easy, a company affiliated with Trilogy co-founder Joseph Liemandt, also owns property on River Hills Road across from the district land. Liemandt and Tires Made Easy own 12 land segments totaling 88 acres near the proposed sports complex.

The majority of those 88 acres is classified as ecological land by TCAD, significantly reducing tax value. TCAD estimated 2012 market value of the combined Liemandt/Tires Made Easy properties at $15.3 million, but assessed the land for taxes based on a total value of $489,600 because of its ecological designation. Liemandt could not be reached prior to press time.

Tracy Day, ag administrator for TCAD, said the Ecological Land designation is one way the agency uses to value land.

“It is being used for a reason other than its highest value and best use, so it is valued differently, Day said.

TCAD heavily scrutinizes property owners seeking the Ecological classification, Day said. To qualify, land owners have to have a contract in place with an accredited university that is using the land for ecological research, he said.

“We heavily scrutinize those applications with research requirements and site visits,” Day said. “County-wide, there are not even a dozen ecological properties. It’s not easy to achieve the designation.”

TCAD had not released the name of the affiliated university at time of press.
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Comments

  1. Beautiful says:

    Let’s sell that 50 acres for home sites. Apparently we need more students in the district since Eanes ISD transfers in hundreds of out-of-district students.

  2. Westlake Resident says:

    “A sweetheart deal” for well connected people – I think Mr. Leonard must be talking about his client. Why is a company called Tires Made Easy buying up land to be used by a university for ecological research? I’m sure there is yet another tax loophole in there somewhere.

  3. locomocoman says:

    Shame on EISD! This isn’t the best use of the property or the best deal for us taxpayers that gave them the money to buy the land in the first place.

  4. westlaketaxpayer says:

    The new elementary school is on the site plan. Looks like Eanes has found a way to lay the infrastructure for the new elementary school that we have already voted down.

  5. EISD Taxpayer says:

    What a shame Leonard Smith and a select few home owners are trying to prevent a park that all EISD families will be able to enjoy for decades.

    I remember a time when local government was responsible for funding and building parks in their community. In this time of tight budgets, we should be praising and thanking WHLL and the other non-profit groups who are trying to provide this wonderful community asset, which will be used and enjoyed by future generations of EISD families.

    Unfortunately, this appears to be a case where a handful of local homeowners are afraid their land may be devalued, and they found a lawyer who shares their values.

    I hope a handful of people will not spoil a future community asset that will be enjoyed by thousands of EISD families

    I say, THANK YOU WHLL, and all of the countless volunteers who are trying to give back to EISD families and future generations.

  6. Gonzo says:

    This is a case of not-in-my-backyard if I’ve ever seen it. Shame on you!

  7. Not surprised says:

    Once again Nola Wellman drives Eanes ISD directly into a lawsuit.

  8. Will Nola testify? Please? ;) says:

    Hopefully the court will judge some sense into this district!

  9. New twist on old theme says:

    Not the same old, same old NIMBY, this is a case of “not in my company owned, low tax rate, backyard where no one lives because it’s designated as an ecological laboratory.” How would a ballpark for kids harm this landowner?

  10. Jennifer says:

    Wow – interesting that the Picayune took the approach of attacking one of the plaintiffs. Is this directly from the WHLL press release? The land that Tires Made Easy owns is on Lake Austin. Someone should thank Mr. Liemandt for preserving some land that abuts the source of our drinking water instead of contaminating it with fertilizers and run-off. He could make a lot more money selling it for multi-family or a boat barn. Let the smear campaign begin. By the way, how is the search for the people who created the dirty web site in the EISD trustee election going?

  11. How much does he pay?? says:

    I think this mean that billionaire Joe Liemandt pays less in taxes for 88 prime riverfront acres than I do for my modest single family home? If true, all taxpayers should be outraged by his exploitation of the tax laws.

  12. But, of course! says:

    The scope of the WHLL sports center keeps increasing. It started out as a few ball fields. Now, a for-profit facility usage has been added. (How does that work in the contract with the district?)
    As for this being a “not-in-my-backyard”, I wonder if Gonzo would like to have an 800+ spot parking lot/365 days a year/8 am – 10 pm/lighted sports facility put up in his (or her) backyard. And no, the argument that a school would be there anyway doesn’t cut it because an elementary school doesn’t come close to the facility usage a for-profit sports facility will see.
    Just wait until WHLL gets EISD to foot the bill for the water and utility lines. Wonder how much that bond proposal is going to cost the taxpayers.

  13. What is the mission of EISD? says:

    When class sizes are getting bigger every year, more transfers are being added, EEF fundraising is constant, P TO’s are funding more and more, and EISD is complaining at the legislature that we do not have enough money to adequately educate our students- the EISD school board gives away millions of dollars worth of land. Not sure the legislature is going to feel sorry for EISD, not sure I would blame them because of the shell game we are playing. The mission of EISD is to educate students not provide land for a community sports center.

  14. Eanes mom says:

    Yawn.
    So a small group of wealthy homeowners are upset about a new recreation center for use by children and members of our community? Their comical assertions that EISD cut a bad deal is a thinly veiled attempt to undermine development of an otherwise worthless wasteland.
    Let it go, people, let it happen. Westlake needs the new park.

  15. Larry says:

    There is no question that more fields, a new park, a recreation center would be a great benefit for the kids and community. Unfortunately, that isn’t what WHLL is proposing on our public land. This project has many for-profit aspects and by all accounts is a Pay-for-Use Commercial Sports Complex. Not a community park and recreation center at all. I know that’s the impression many seem to have, but this thing is gigantic and maybe difficult to imagine. The impact goes well beyond just a few people’s back yards and the lack of good accessibility (unlit, curvy, cliff side 2-lane road) even makes it potentially dangerous in addition to being several mile traffic jam during the peak use the fields. The road itself is, in my opinion, unsafe for this kind of traffic and that’s in the best of conditions and without some kind of emergency or accident occurring. I believe they have reduced the number of parking spaces from 800 to 650 – but that’s still no small number and with the same number of fields and facilities, and that doesn’t mean less actual traffic to and from. This thing is huge!

    A true community park and recreation development with a 3-5 fields would make a lot more sense, but the site really isn’t ideal for anything of the like. There are lots of small sites spread around that could easily be turned into the various fields and facilities needed + without a single choke point too. The desire to put all these facilities, as has been the proposal since the very beginning, in one place is all about the for profit aspects of doing so. Getting the land for free, that’s the only reason the River Hills site is even considered. Eanes paid for an assessment of that site over 15 years ago and the report came back with a myriad of reasons why that hill top was far from ideal for a project like this. The reasons identified then remain unchanged.

    Good for the guy who’s paying $500,000 in annual taxes on land he’s donated for ecological preservation and research. That’s still 10X more than WHLL is to be paying Eanes for the lease publicly owned land in question. Never mind that a provision in the lease seems to allow the district to sweet heart sell the land to WHLL without bid at some future point too.

    If this was a project truly for the kids and the community vs. creating a regional For-Profit, Pay-for-Use Sports Complex, there probably wouldn’t be this kind of opposition… as it also wouldn’t be this scale of a project either… wouldn’t be a giant, sky lighting landmark facility open from dawn to 10PM at night. Would be a few fields and a park area. We need more of those spread around that are truly for the kids and the community and plenty of good sites that could add in parts to be much better for everyone (other than the profiteers) vs. this for-profit Sports Complex.

    On the surface and as WHLL’s PR machine presents – well of course it sounds great. But really take a closer look at what’s proposed for that River Hills Road hill top. This isn’t a nimby thing – this is simple not the right site for this project. Far from an ideal location, even admittedly so by its proponents, with real potential safety risks, and significant variance/exceptions needed in the permitting process just to let it be built at all. It’s only because they got the land for virtually free that this site is considered at all – that throws all the other rational reasons it’s not the right site out the door for the sake of pushing a square peg through a round hole. As a community – we owe it to our kids, we owe it to ourselves to see that needed public sports and recreation spaces happen in size, scope, and locations that really serve the community. A Pay-for-Use, for-profit mega complex facility on a hilltop with poor accessibility is not the solution.

  16. Thank you says:

    My husband and I applaud those brave and few homeowners who are standing up to fight. We saw what was coming under the guise of a baseball bat and little league hat but were too afraid to speak up. We thought our voices wouldn’t matter. We thought big business and backdoor deals were the way things worked around here.

    Thank you, Lewis Talbert, David Burch, Glenn Staats, and a company names Tires Made Easy, Inc. Just plain thank you.

  17. don't live in the neighborhood says:

    We don’t live in the River Hills neighborhood but we do pay taxes to Eanes ISD. It’s appalling to watch our district leadership align themselves with private enterprises instead of focusing their attention and resources on the education of our students. The school district’s attorneys are dancing all the way to the bank on this one. Let’s get back to basics and redirect our tax revenue to the classroom, the teachers and the students.

  18. Exploitation of tax laws? says:

    At least the ecological waiver is above-board. Want to see real exploitation of property tax laws? Look no further than our superintendent, Nola Wellman. Google it.

  19. The probelm is obvious and the answer is very simple says:

    The problem is Nola Wellman and her very weak school board that neither represent the parents of this district well at all. The Board represents and apparently works only for her-under the guise of “what’s best for the kids”. The answer is very simple in solving a wide-range of EISD problems and that is to have Nola leave, go fishing or travel-wait, she can’t do that if she leaves because the district is paying for her HUGE out of touch with reality salary and all her travel too! Couple that with the iPad debacle, Westlake HS administration going to Boston last fall on a “team building” trip that the district and Wellman paid for and approved….WAKE UP EISD community and solve the problem!

  20. Westlake Resident says:

    Larry – Let’s get your facts straight. “The guy” who owns Tires Made Easy is NOT paying $500,000 in taxes. He has land valued at $15.3 million, however his taxes are calculated based on a valuation of less than $500,000. So, Liemandt pays less in taxes for his 15 million dollar property than the average homeowner in EISD pays on their home.

    The irony of the situation is that one of the arguments in the lawsuit he filed is that the return from the lease is minimal. How many teachers could we hire with the tax revenue from 88 acres not designated “ecological?” It remains to be seen whether this land is truly donated, or whether the ecological designation is just a place holder, and way to pay less in taxes, until the land is sold or developed for private use.

  21. Eanes mom says:

    Oh my gosh, get a clue you whiners.
    You represent a well funded minority who jam the blogs with your long and false postings.
    The facts are that the Westlake community wants this development, Nola is an outstanding Superintendent, the Board is doing a good job keeping the interests of the children/Westlake community at the forefront, EISD is one of the best school districts in the state and that this project has been in the works for many years.
    You guys bought property near a piece of land that has been owned by EISD for many years. How can you be surprised that it will be developed into a community center and a school?
    Get over it and move on. Geeeeezzzzzz…..

  22. Check your "friends" list. says:

    Westlake resident, better check your “friends” list. There are LOTS of well-heeled people in our community who have exemptions on their inherited lake front properties for the very same reason … nature preserves, AG, and others. This is absolutely nothing new here in our community and across Texas. On the other hand, the donation (and it is just that) of our public land (Eanes ISD district is not a private property) for non-school purposes is not only a sweetheart deal but I agree … may be illegal. You may not like exemptions; if not, the legislature is in session. Go change the laws.

  23. Great idea to get these guys in line.... says:

    You know how you could really get all these guys to back off and let WHLL and EISD proceed? Dig up some embarrassing information about their children, and then post it anonymously on the web. Or better yet, send it out to the entire school district.

    Oh wait. I think you know that trick already.

  24. But, of course! says:

    Eanes mom has always been one of my favorite posters, even after she (or he) took the name from someone else.
    The community center (what a great new name for the mega-sports field; the public will love that!) was planned by the district when they purchased the land? Really? Amazing! What forethought! And here I thought that the land was purchased as an investment, and perhaps for a simple school.
    I’m sure the WHLL coalition is proud to have a belittling bully on their side. Clever of you to name anyone you oppose a whiner. Yawn, geeezzzz. Get over it and move on.
    Naw, just kidding.
    I’m sure that the good people on River Hills Rd will soon have a massive sports complex and school on their street. After all, the deeps pockets of Endeavor, Chris Ellis and his cronies have purchased their influence with EISD and Board members via EEF and campaign donations, so how hard will this project be, right?

  25. Something Before Football Season says:

    Besides a primo property leased by Eanes ISD at low ball rates to a well connected set of folks, what else is news?
    Just dont understand why the neighborhood folks would not appreciate high intensity baseball lights shining in their window on a school nite or having gummy bear wrappers blowing in their yard?
    Oh yes, the possibility endangered species near the property too? Shouldn’t take more that 5-10 years resolve this one.
    It is always good to have these ” what did Nola do this time” discussions before football season.

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