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Lawsuit filed on River Hills sports complex
Wednesday, April 17, 2013 | | 25
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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