Despite protest, Johnson County Commissioners approve Louis Vuitton tax and reinvestment measures
CLEBURNE – Despite strong protests from some residents, including April Dunn, who described the manner in which the county has done business with Louis Vuitton as “secretive, loathsome, incorrigible, villainous and contemptuous” – Johnson County Commissioners on Friday unanimously approved measures designed to help the 163-year-old company build a new plant near Keene.
Specifically, and without addressing the impassioned complaints from three residents, commissioners unanimously designated land the company recently purchased near Keene as a reinvestment development zone. The motion to approve was made by Commissioner Precinct 3 Jerry Stringer and a second was made by Commissioner Precinct 2 Kenny Howell.
Commissioners also approved an order authorizing tax abatement agreements with Louis Vuitton US Manufacturing after a motion to approve by Howell and a second by Commissioner Precinct 1 Rick Bailey.
The protests were aired during the citizens comments portion of the meeting. Commissioners allowed only three residents to speak against the Louis Vuitton project and three to speak in favor.
In a previous interview, Johnson County Economy Development Commission Executive Director Dianna Miller praised Louis Vuitton as a huge corporate addition to the county – a sentiment echoed by Bobby de la Garza, owner of Cleburne Ford, and Keene Economic Development Director Michael Talley.
“There were several states in competition for this project and, within Texas, there were several cities in competition,” de la Garza told commissioners. “For us to be at this juncture is an incredible privilege.”
“There is a whole lot of potential to have a company of this magnitude and this much history behind it,” Talley said. “It’s a great opportunity for all the residents here. It will bring new jobs, more sales taxes and new homes.”
But many of the residents at Friday’s meeting say they have long been concerned by what they describe as secrecy surrounding Louis Vuitton’s emergence on 256 acres at 5520 County Road 316 in an unincorporated area of Johnson County. The company purchased the property from Wayne Z. Burkhead Jr., a Dallas doctor, and Rockin’ Z Ranch LLC.
Meanwhile, Keene officials have applied for a $1.25 million capital funds grant to widen CR 316 to accommodate an expected increase in traffic from the reported hundreds of employees expected to be hired in the next few years, Talley told the Burleson Star in a previous interview. That portion of CR 316 is inside Keene’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ.
Many residents in close proximity to the Louis Vuitton property say they have wondered why Keene’s industrial park or areas closer to major roads or railroads had not been considered.
Those in opposition to the project started a community effort and Facebook page titled “Stop Project Mustang,” which was the code name for the project when Louis Vuitton was refusing to release its name. The group circulated letters questioning the proposal to area newspapers.
Corinna Watson, spokesperson for the protesting group, was emphatic that the project has been extremely secretive. She said the language on grant applications has been confusing, and that legal notices have been very misleading.
Watson said she also is concerned about community impact in terms of increased traffic and pollution.
“By providing a tax abatement, you are asking your tax payers to pay for this … business,” she told commissioners Friday. “The cost benefit analysis clearly shows Louis Vuitton will cost Johnson county money.”
She scoffs at any claim that Louis Vuitton will be a good neighbor.
“We do not see a 100,000-square-foot building, a 500-space-plus parking lot, bright lights and removal of trees to widen roads for more traffic as a good neighbor,” Dunn said. “To make matters worse, Louis Vuitton wants tax abatements of roughly $91,000 for probably 10 years. This is absurd, especially since our county sheriff has been asked to cut his budget by $25,000. We have to pay taxes. So should Louis Vuitton. As this issue stands at this very moment, those of us opposed to Louis Vuitton feel like our elected officials have abandoned us for business.”
The abatement agreement cannot be transferred if Louis Vuitton sells the property, Bruce Medley, an attorney representing the count told the court Friday.
Also, the percentage of the abatement will decrease proportionally if Louis Vuitton builds a smaller facility or fails to create the number of jobs that have been agreed upon, Medley told the court.
This meeting was pushed to Friday from Monday because of scheduling conflicts.