The Fort Worth Zoning Commission voted 7-2 Wednesday to deny Wal-Mart the rezoning of a site at Hemphill and Berry streets where it wants to raze a church-owned community center and build a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.
Commissioners said they were troubled by the idea of setting a precedent by granting Wal-Mart waivers on the site after neighborhood leaders said the company's overall plan would mean an end to the city's Hemphill/Berry Urban Village design for the area. Wal-Mart is the first developer to seek waivers in the district since the city approved the urban village several years ago.
Neighborhood leaders said they want the store but want it to better fit the urban village plan, which calls for old-style buildings that hug street fronts and have lots of windows that draw pedestrians in.
"If Wal-Mart wants to pursue this, they know how to get ahold of us," Fernando Florez, representing the Hemphill Corridor Task Force, said after the vote.
"Tune in for Tuesday," said Tom Galbreath of Dunaway Associates, a Fort Worth consulting firm representing Wal-Mart. The City Council takes up the case then.
The site's layout was a huge problem for the retailer.
Wal-Mart has an L-shaped site at the southwest corner of the intersection under contract from Travis Avenue Baptist Church, with plans to tear down the church's South Annex and build a market. At the corner is a small shopping center that company representatives say has not been for sale. That made it impossible to push the store to Berry Street with a conventional design.
And although Wal-Mart redesigned its plan with a corner entry facing the intersection and tinkered with windows and other architectural elements to meet city requirements, it wasn't enough.
The company is seeking four waivers from mixed-use zoning: the right to put the parking lot in front of the building, to escape the 20-foot-maximum-setback rule, to build a rear wall to screen the truck delivery lane and to avoid a requirement that it screen the loading dock.
There are no objective criteria for such waivers. The Zoning Commission, relying heavily on neighborhood leaders' comments, denied the request.
Neighborhood leaders said they were worried that Wal-Mart might buy the shopping center at the corner, raze it and build a gas station in front of the Neighborhood Market.
Sandra Dennehy, chairman of the Berry Street Initiative, proposed that the company set aside the "panhandle"-shaped piece of the site fronting Berry Street as a park and agree to replat it as a separate lot, ensuring that other development groups know the site may be available. Galbreath said the area would be needed for parking.
Dennehy also proposed that the city rezone the corner shopping center site to require a minimum two-story new mixed-use construction, precluding gas stations.
Galbreath compared Wal-Mart's proposal for the Hemphill/Berry site to retail development that's been allowed in the West Seventh corridor and behind the historic Montgomery Ward site.
"This is flexibility, and this is how redevelopment occurs," he said.
Christopher Bonilla, a Fort Worth land development consultant who grew up in the Hemphill area, told commissioners that the Wal-Mart would spur development, broaden the tax base, and bring needed goods and services.
Dunaway also represented Wal-Mart in a second zoning case. The board voted unanimously to approve a zoning change at a site at 2221-2235 Jacksboro Highway, where the retailer plans a 182,000-square-foot Supercenter.
Staff writer Sandra Baker contributed to this report.
Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808