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Railway project may be delayed

FORT WORTH A dispute over a sliver of land along the eastern edge of downtown could cause yet another delay in the arrival of the Trinity Railway Express commuter train to Fort Worth.

J.R. Kimball, chairman of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority executive committee, said Monday that the owners of 3 acres of land south of the new Intermodal Transportation Center at Ninth and Jones streets are manipulating the court system and threatening the project''s fall completion date.

Taylor Gandy, who, through the partnership Ron Investments Ltd. owns 9 acres in the area, including the disputed 3 acres, said he''s not trying to obstruct the project but wants a fair price for the land.

The transportation authority took the property through the eminent domain process. But Mr. Gandy recently asked a state district court to return the acreage to him. He has declined the $1.2 million Fort Worth Transportation Authority officials have offered him, saying the land is worth $1.6 million.

Mr. Kimball said Monday that the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, commonly called the T, "passed the point of no return" on what they would offer Mr. Gandy for the property.

"We just can''t justify spending any more," Mr. Kimball said. "We''ve spent an awful lot of money to get that train here."

Fort Worth''s portion of the Trinity Railway Express already has been delayed by a year because of other disputes. Mr. Kimball said that if the dispute over the 3 acres goes on, the T probably would have to delay the continuation of the line to the Texas & Pacific Terminal building in October.

He did say that the portion of the line between Richland Hills and Ninth and Jones could open on time. The part of the line that remains in the most jeopardy would extend from Ninth and Jones to the Texas & Pacific building.

The tussle comes at a time when about 4,500 people daily ride the commuter train, which runs between Union Station in Dallas and Richland Hills.

Mr. Gandy said he supported the train and would continue to meet with T officials to determine what he called a fair market price for the property.

"The present value is worth more than they''re offering me," he said Monday. "We''ve got a legitimate dispute as to what my property is worth. I''d prefer to get this straightened out, but it''s still my property.

"I don''t know if it will hold up the project or not. We''re still negotiating."

Attorneys for the T filed papers Friday saying the property is a "necessary part of the commuter rail system connecting downtown Fort Worth with downtown Dallas" and asked that the partnership be denied possession of the property.

Officials of the T took the property by eminent domain, but the condemnation case was dismissed in October after a state district judge found it lacked jurisdiction. The T is appealing.

If the property is returned to Mr. Gandy, it could force construction crews from the property, T officials said.

Documents show that Mr. Gandy, through the partnership, purchased the 9-acre piece of property in 1998 for $1.3 million. At that time, the documents state, Mr. Gandy was informed that the land would be needed for the commuter rail line.

T officials agreed to supply Mr. Gandy continued rail access to the remainder of the property, which includes the historic Santa Fe depot at an additional cost to the T of $500,000 to $1 million.

Through the condemnation process, an independent appraiser found that the 3 acres was worth $377,000. Mr. Gandy did not offer a counterappraisal, attorneys for the T assert.

Previous roadblocks to the project include disputes over the possible demolition of a 1910 warehouse and the design and function of the intermodal center.

Disagreements over plans to tunnel 100 feet through the historic Alarm Supply Building pushed the opening date back a year. Planners had to consider the design of the transit hub, the role of the stately Texas & Pacific Terminal building and the path of the train.

Continued delays came from business leaders'' efforts to tear down the Alarm Supply warehouse, against vehement protests from preservationists.

"We have great expectations for the train, and the people of Fort Worth do as well," Mr. Kimball said. "They''ve wanted it, and they deserve it. But people keep throwing stumbling blocks in our way."

The Dallas Morning News
Laurie Fox