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Land dispute may delay commuter railway service

FORT WORTH -- A fight over money and land could delay commuter rail service to the Texas & Pacific Terminal Building at the southern end of downtown by up to six months, officials with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority said Monday.

Local developer and investor Taylor Gandy is seeking a court order that would force the transportation authority, also known as the T, to return a 3.8-acre strip of land that runs south of 12th Street on the eastern edge of downtown.

Gandy is also asking that the T stop construction work just south of the Intermodal Transportation Center at Ninth and Jones streets until he and T officials agree on a purchase price for the property.

"That land belongs to us until they legally take it away," Gandy said Monday. "I don''t think that any government agency has the right to take possession of a piece of property until the owner is compensated.

"And we certainly have not agreed on the fair market value of the land."

But the T, which says it needs the land to build the Intermodal Transportation Center, says it has already offered Gandy more than enough money for the property.

"This is just a maneuver on his part to further delay the process," said J.R. Kimball, chairman of the T''s executive committee. "We are trying to be a good neighbor and have made several concessions already to the Gandys."

Kimball said Gandy''s legal action won''t affect when the popular Trinity Railway Express comes to the transportation center, but it could delay the start of commuter rail service at the Texas & Pacific Terminal Building, 1600 Throckmorton St., until spring 2002.

Plans call for the Trinity rail line to run to both the Intermodal Transportation Center and the T&P building by October.

The Intermodal Transportation Center will eventually serve as a stop for the Trinity rail line to Dallas but also include space for T bus transfers, Greyhound buses and Amtrak''s passenger, mail and package express shipping service.

Kimball said the court dispute also threatens the timely relocation of Amtrak rail service from the Santa Fe Depot on Jones Street, which Gandy also owns, to the Intermodal Transportation Center. Gandy and T officials have been fighting over the land''s value for almost 18 months.

The transportation authority says it legally condemned the 3.8-acre tract in the summer of 1999. At that time, commissioners appraised the land''s value at $377,000.

But Gandy said the T filed the suit in the wrong court, and last October a judge agreed. The T is appealing the ruling but in the meantime Gandy wants his land back.

T officials say that if Gandy is successful, they will have to start condemnation proceedings all over again -- and reappraise the land. The process could take four to six months, Kimball said.

Gandy said Tuesday that negotiations were ongoing but that he was not satisfied with the T''s latest offer. In December, the transportation authority offered to pay him $1.2 million.

"I have appraisers who say that land could be worth $1.9 million," Gandy said. "But I am not going to negotiate in the newspaper."

Fort Worth officials say they are monitoring the dispute but do not plan to get involved.

"I am very concerned about anything that delays commuter service arriving in Fort Worth, either at the T&P building or the Intermodal Transportation Center," Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said.

Neither Gandy nor the T could say when the court will hold a hearing on the issue.

WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU:

A legal dispute over the value of a 3.8-acre tract could delay commuter railway service to the southernmost portion of downtown Fort Worth by six months. The popular Trinity Railway Express is scheduled to stop at two downtown locations by October.

Ginger D. Richardson, (817) 390-7616
[email protected]



The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Ginger D. Richardson