Fort Worth council paves the way for historic changes

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 16, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Capping a contentious, wide-ranging five-hour meeting that went into the early hours Wednesday morning, the City Council gave its blessing to three major development projects that could reshape parts of the city, including new zoning for the historic Stockyards.

In an 8-1 vote, the council overrode opposition from some influential community leaders and approved changing Stockyards zoning from heavy industrial to mixed-use, planned development with a site plan required.

Supporters said the change is meant to protect the tourist area from uses allowed under the previous zoning, such as asphalt mixing plants and metal fabrication.

But the new zoning still allows traditional Stockyards uses, such as blacksmithing and wagon shops; breweries, distilleries and wineries; feed stores and livestock auctions; and stables, that are not typically allowed in mixed-use areas.

Earlier in the meeting, the council approved a zoning change to allow the Glen Garden Country Club to be converted into a whiskey distillery and meeting center, as well as a plan for a new multipurpose arena in the city’s Cultural District that is expected to include demolition of the arena of the downtown Fort Worth Convention Center.

The distillery project was not endorsed by the city Zoning Commission and had vocal neighborhood opposition.

Mayor Betsy Price said all three votes were historic for Fort Worth, especially for their respective communities.

“I think they are going to make the city much better,” she said. “One helps our preserve our history at the Stockyards and grows it and expands it and make it even better. [The distillery] is a great project, thought there was a lot of opposition, but it will keep a strong Fort Worth business here and help grow that region over there.

“We want to continue to push great development and good jobs for our city.”

Much of the attention Tuesday night was on the Stockyards.

A large and vocal crowd urged the council to take its time deciding the fate of a proposed $175 million development by the Hickman family and Majestic Realty Co. of California, which couldn’t get new permits issued in the area until the zoning was changed because of a council vote in June.

Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, at her first council meeting, cast the lone vote against the Stockyards case, saying she is concerned that changing the zoning before implementing “form-based code” will leave the Stockyards with “inconsistent results that are less than desirable.”

Zadeh served on the Zoning Commission for six years and was chairwoman for a year.

She said the city should “buckle down” and create a detailed, form-based code first that could regulate everything from landscaping and building facades to sidewalks and lighting.

“This way all future development could be looked at from the same playbook,” Zadeh said Tuesday night.

But Councilman Sal Espino, who represents the area, said the zoning change is the first step in protecting the heritage of the Stockyards and said the form-based code and traffic studies will come later since they take more time to put together.

The mixed-use zoning also allows residences, which have not been an option in the Stockyards, and worried some business owners who said having residential development could adversely affect the entertainment district.

The development, which could include hotels, residences, corporate headquarters and livestock auctions, was announced June 3, but opposition quickly arose from several longtime conservation advocates concerned that the modern development would tarnish the Western heritage of the Stockyards, the city’s most recognizable tourist attraction.

Other big action

The council voted 7-2 to approve a zoning change that will allow the transformation of the historic Glen Garden Country Club into a whiskey distillery and meeting center.

The Zoning Commission declined to endorse the project, and many in the Rolling Hills neighborhood oppose it.

The rest of council went against Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, who represents that district and initially made a motion to deny the zoning change.

Mayor Pro Tem W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, however, immediately offered a substitute motion to approve the zoning. Gray and Councilwoman Gyna Bivens voted against the substitute motion.

A supermajority vote from the council was required for approval of the zoning because more than 25 percent of property owners within 200 feet of the property line registered opposition to the zoning change.

Though the council normally follows the lead of the area representative, Price said, several factors influenced her decision to vote against Gray, including that 75 percent of the property owners had not registered opposition and the southeast Fort Worth area needs economic development.

She called the expansion of Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. a “golden opportunity.”

“I think people have to study it carefully and not get caught up in the emotion and that is really hard when you are talking about some of these neighborhoods, and I can appreciate that,” she said.

Several hours earlier Tuesday evening, the council unanimously approved the first step in building a 14,000-seat multipurpose arena and sports facility in the Cultural District.

The council voted 9-0 after members heard about sweeping changes that consultants are recommending for the Fort Worth Convention Center, including underground parking, another ballroom and a second-story restaurant at the north end.

The new arena would be at the southeast corner of Harley Avenue and Gendy Street on the southern side of the Will Rogers Memorial Center, but approval for the project still needs to come to Fort Worth voters in a referendum.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst

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