Ex-U.S. congressman sues over settlement between Bartonville, water supplier
A former U.S. congressman is challenging a settlement between the town of Bartonville and the local water supplier over the construction of a water tower adjacent to his home.
Dick Armey, former majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’ 26th District, and his wife, Susan, along with some of their neighbors, first sued Bartonville Water Supply Corp. over the water tower in December 2012. But after the Bartonville Town Council agreed this week to accept a settlement offer in its own long-running battle over the tower, Armey’s attorney amended the lawsuit to also include the town.
“We genuinely did not want to file suit against the town, but we were left with no recourse when the town takes what we feel are illegal actions that threaten our clients’ property rights,” attorney Mike Whitten said in an email.
The petition, filed in a Denton district court Tuesday, claims that the town’s settlement constitutes illegal contract zoning and came about, in part, through violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Neither Robert Hager, the attorney for Bartonville, nor R. William Wood, the attorney for the water supplier, returned a call for comment Wednesday.
Armey said the lawsuit has never been about money. Since he and his wife bought the land in Bartonville, it had always been his understanding from both the town and the water supplier that there would only ever be ground storage on the lot adjacent to his.
But since the Town Council isn’t upholding its ordinances, the residents have to do it, he said.
“It’s a matter of principle now,” Armey said.
The settlement agreement, approved by the Town Council in a split vote Monday night, allows Cross Timbers Water Supply, formerly Bartonville Water Supply Corp., to submit a new application to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission to finish building a second water tower for the system.
According to comptroller Lloyd Hanson, the 20-square-mile system serves about 2,191 connections in Bartonville, Double Oak and Copper Canyon.
Should that permit application be successful, as part of the settlement agreement, the water supplier has offered to reimburse the town up to $350,000 in legal fees related to the lawsuit and indemnify the town against any claims over that new permit, including claims by the Armeys and their neighbors.
The water supplier also agreed to make another capital investment in the system — an 8-inch water loop for one subdivision — within five years of completing the tower.
The tower was partially built before the legal maneuvers halted the work. The Armeys and the neighbors who are still a party in the suit, Richard and Krystal Vera, claimed in the petition filed this week that the tower should be torn down in order to be consistent with a court of appeals opinion.
The conflict came to a head in 2011 when the water supplier began building the $1.2 million tower without a construction permit from the town. The water supplier argued in court that its authority to build the tower comes from the state water code and it wasn’t subject to the city’s zoning authority.
The Fourth Court of Appeals in March 2013 upheld the town’s zoning authority but left unanswered the question about the construction permit.
In the latest petition, attorneys have listed two causes of action — one for illegal contract zoning, as provided for in the settlement agreement, and another for open meetings violations.
The open meetings violations came, the petition alleges, when several council members discussed the settlement among themselves, with members of the water supply corporation and with another Bartonville resident, Del Knowler, in a way that constituted a quorum of the Town Council.
Knowler is not named as a plaintiff or defendant in the suit, but court records show that he was subpoenaed for a deposition in the case April 1.
The private lawsuit made national news in February when word got out that Renda and Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s CEO, were part of the lawsuit with the Armeys through one of their Bartonville properties, the Bar RR Ranch.
The Tillersons and Bar RR Ranch dropped out of the lawsuit in March. Another Bartonville pair, Jane and Brad Teel, dropped out of the lawsuit in June, court records showed.
Only the Armeys and the Veras remain as plaintiffs in the case, which has a hearing over whether to order demolition of the unfinished tower scheduled for May 16.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.