A state district judge gave Tim Love a little love on Thursday when he ruled that the celebrity chef does not have to pay property taxes on his Woodshed Smokehouse on the Trinity River.
State District Judge Wade Birdwell granted a summary judgment requested by Love’s attorneys, who argued that the 5,267-square-foot eatery is on land leased from a public agency, making it tax-exempt. The Tarrant Appraisal District argued that the restaurant was being used for private purposes and should be taxed.
“I’m extremely pleased. I think he did the right thing,” Bill Warren, Love’s attorney, said Friday about the ruling.
TAD’s chief appraiser, Jeff Law, said the district’s only interest in the case is to “properly and accurately” apply the laws.
“As I have previously stated, the Texas property tax code states that public property not used for a public purpose is taxable,” Law said.
Birdwell has not signed a final order laying out his ruling, and an appeal may postpone the restaurateur getting a refund of the $23,197 he has already paid in taxes. Law said the district has not decided whether to appeal the case.
In 2011, Love signed a 10-year lease with the Trinity River Vision Authority, a political subdivision of the Tarrant Regional Water District. The two agencies were so excited about the project’s potential for bringing more people and development along the river, that they didn’t put the project out for bids.
The district spent about $1.1 million to build the restaurant’s shell, but by the time it put in trailheads and restraining walls, it had spent $2.4 million on the project. As part of his partnership with the district, Love paid to finish out the restaurant and pays rent that ranges from 4 percent to 6 percent of its revenues.
We believe that the ruling validates the water district’s positions that facilities it has developed for the use of the public should be and are tax exempt,
Lee Christie, Tarrant Regional Water District attorney
Over four years, the Woodshed had pumped more than $800,000 into public coffers.
To guarantee public access to the area, the two sides agreed that patrons running, biking and walking along the trail must be allowed to rest on the restaurant’s outdoor patio without buying anything. Love said he gives away water and Gatorade to those on the trail.
The water district believed, since it owns the property, that it would be tax-exempt. The district’s attorneys compared it to concessions at places like Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Love’s attorneys also argued that state statutes not only allow for it to be tax-exempt, but also override the state tax code.
But TAD officials argued that since 2012 the eclectic, light-industrial-meets-urban-fish-camp restaurant should be taxed because a large part of it is being used for a private purpose. TAD said it has allowed tax exemptions on a grassy playground, bike racks and other areas used by the public. It denied exemptions to the remaining areas because they are exclusively controlled by the restaurant to support its business.
TAD also argued that the Woodshed’s evidence justifying the exemption because it “routinely” provides free concerts” and “sponsors runs and walks” was too vague.
“The public trailhead and parking lot have a public purpose,” Law said in an earlier interview. “However, TAD looks closely at property for which exemption is sought based on its ownership, use, and the particular laws that apply.”
But Lee Christie, the attorney who represents the water district, said the judge simply disagreed. Technically, the lawsuit is between the water district and TAD, but the lease allocates any responsibility for court challenges over the taxation to Love’s companies.
“We believe that the ruling validates the water district’s positions that facilities it has developed for the use of the public should be and are tax exempt,” Christie said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.