Bill would allow tax districts along rail line

Posted Friday, Mar. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A bill allowing the creation of a special tax district for the proposed Cotton Belt commuter rail line was filed Thursday by a Dallas state senator, even though a large portion of the project falls within Fort Worth whose City Council earlier this week rejected the plan.

The lone author of the bill, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, made no promises that it would pass muster with lawmakers.

"It won't happen without Fort Worth's participation, and I can't forecast the outcome at this point," Carona said in an email, referring to Senate Bill 1333.

"The bill is filed to preserve everyone's options and allow the advocates to continue pursing the project."

Today is the deadline for filing nonemergency, nonlocal bills.

The proposed Cotton Belt line would stretch 62 miles from southwest Fort Worth to DFW Airport and either Plano or Richardson.

An unidentified private developer is interested in providing some of the up-front costs for building the project in exchange for the rights to collect revenue from property values and development on the rail corridor for decades to come.

But Fort Worth officials surprised Cotton Belt supporters by balking at the plan earlier this week, voting 6-2 to reject it.

Fort Worth officials are developing their own project, known as TEX Rail, on essentially the same tracks -- and they were increasingly concerned that the Cotton Belt plan was causing delays with TEX Rail.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority has applied to the Federal Transit Administration for a new-starts grant to cover up to half the estimated cost of nearly $1 billion for TEX Rail, which includes opening a passenger rail line from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and DFW Airport.

TEX Rail would connect destinations such as Texas Christian University, Fort Worth's medical district and downtown and Grapevine's historical Main Street.

But Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan, an early proponent of the Cotton Belt plan going back to 2010, said earlier this week that the Cotton Belt had "muddied up" the TEX Rail plan. Jordan and other Fort Worth leaders also asserted that cities along the Cotton Belt corridor already have authority to create their own special tax districts to take part in transit-oriented development if they so desire.

The Cotton Belt legislation will be written in a way that preserves cities' decision-making authority over property within their boundaries, said Ron Natinsky, a former Dallas councilman now working with the consulting firm Balfour and Odebrecht as a team member of the Cotton Belt project.

The bill would provide multiple options for the 13 cities along the corridor to develop property, including the creation of tax increment, tax abatement or many other zones.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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