Saturday, September 1, 2012

Long-Running Legal Dispute Over Downtown Property Resolved in City's Favor

The City of Austin has won in a legal-dispute that has been raging for years over a downtown block it built a parking garage and chilling plant on after condemning it.  The Texas Supreme Court ruled in the city's favor Friday, saying that the city did not "act fraudulently or in bad faith" when it assumed ownership of the land on Red River Street between Fourth and Fifth Street, reports.

The land belonged to Harry Whittington, an Austin lawyer who became infamous when he was shot by Vice President Dick Cheney during a hunting trip in 2006.  Whittington has been suing the city for over ten years, asserting that the city did not follow eminent domain laws by demonstrating that the block was necessary for a public purpose.  He is considering filing a motion to have the court rehear the case and has 30 days to do that.

City Manager Marc Ott says that the city will pay Whittington $10.5 million for the land, which is the amount a 2007 jury determined the land was worth.  

Whittington and his family first gained ownership of the land in the early 1980's and wanted to build shops and lofts on it.  In the late 1990's, the city said the land was necessary to build a 700-space garage for the convention center and sixth street visitors and a chiller to cool the convention center and other downtown buildings and sought to condemn the land.  

Whittington said that there was parking available at another city-owned garage and that the Hilton convention center hotel developers had reneged on a deal to build underground parking, saving the developers $10 million.  

In 2003 a judge ruled that the city could build the garage, which was completed in 2005.  In 2007, a jury ruled in Whittington's favor, saying Austin had illegally condemned the block.  That ruling was upheld by the 3rd Court of Appeals, so the City asked the Texas Supreme Court to hear the matter, who ruled in their favor.  

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