A neighborhood-led fight over the rezoning of Glen Garden Country Club into a whiskey distillery didn’t end when the Fort Worth City Council voted in July to rezone the historic club.
Instead, the controversy prompted Sharon Mason-Ford, a teacher of special-needs adults, to run against Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, former executive director of the Riverside Rebuilding Corp., for the District 8 seat in the May 9 election.
Gray, who represents that area, sided with the neighborhoods and voted against the zoning change to turn the struggling country club into a whiskey distillery. But Mason-Ford said Gray didn’t fight hard enough against the project, which won council approval in a 7-2 vote.
“That was not what the constituents wanted, and they still don’t want it,” Mason-Ford said of the distillery, adding residents believe they weren’t given enough information. “We do not feel like that was handled correctly. It was, we believe, forced upon us.”
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Gray, however, said she has never gone against the community in her three years on City Council.
“You asked for my support, and I gave you my support, 100 percent,” Gray said about the Glen Garden case. “But I am that one vote, that one voice that says, ‘My community does not want this.’ But my council colleagues saw something else.”
District 8 is largely a central city district, taking in historic neighborhoods like Rolling Hills, Meadowbrook and Morningside, though it also scoops up several areas south of Loop 820 down to McPherson Road. It stretches from east of downtown along the 7-mile East Lancaster Avenue corridor to just west of Meadowbrook Golf Course.
The district also includes most of the city’s homeless shelters and services, including the Presbyterian Night Shelter, Union Gospel Mission and the Salvation Army.
Kelly Allen Gray, 46
Gray, who beat out Ramon Romero in a special election in 2012 and then beat former Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks for the seat in 2013, wants to continue her work on dispersing affordable housing throughout the city; bringing city services, such as code compliance, up to standards after deep budget cuts during the recession; and using community input from the 2014 bond program to tackle neighborhood-specific projects.
She also points to successful economic development initiatives, like Vision East Lancaster, which has been working to spur development on a corridor struggling with the effects of homelessness. East Lancaster has seen a recent drop in its crime rate, and new developments are planned for the area. Gray has chaired city task forces addressing homelessness, and the City Council voted in 2015 to restore funding to its homelessness program.
Gray said she continues to push the development of Renaissance Square in southeast Fort Worth, citing the 2014 announcement of a new, mega YMCA planned at that location and a continued effort to get a mixed-income apartment complex, Columbia at Renaissance Square, at the development.
Gray also said economic development is not always “big box stores,” but is also infill housing and home ownership programs — she points to the city’s support in affordable homes being built in Hillside and Meadowbrook as examples.
In addition to the city hiring more code officers in the 2015 budget, Gray said she wants to continue to work with community volunteers to clean up District 8, like Fort Worth Adopt a Block, saying one of the things she is “most proud of is being able to create relationships with other organizations who want to be involved in the community.”
Gray recused herself from the City Council’s reductions in the pension plan for police and general employees because her husband was a Fort Worth police officer. She voted against reductions for firefighters, saying she wanted the council to wait on that vote until after a lawsuit filed by police officers was resolved.
“I think the council did what they thought was best at the time, and I don’t necessarily agree with all of the decisions that have been made,” Gray said.
Gray, a graduate of Texas A&M University at Commerce, co-chairs the city’s task force on permanent supportive housing and also co-chaired a task force addressing homelessness issues. She sits on several city boards and committees, including the Housing Finance Corporation, the Local Development Corporation and the audit committee.
Sharon Mason-Ford, 61
A native of Fort Worth, Mason-Ford said Gray has been riding on successes set in motion before Gray took office, like the Renaissance Square development, which gained momentum in 2009 and 2010 while Hicks was still in office.
Mason-Ford said she has had the desire to run in the past, but when “Hicks was in [office] things were well, so there was no reason.”
Mason-Ford said she wants to focus on bringing positive development to the community. As an example, she says the City Council’s 2013 decision to deny a rezoning request from the McDonald YMCA on East Berry Street to allow apartments was a poor one.
Gray made the motion to deny the zoning request in a 7-1-1 vote, after residents packed the council chambers to protest the project.
“We don’t want vacant property there when there could have been apartments,” Mason-Ford said.
Mason-Ford’s issues also include code enforcement problems in the neighborhood, hiring a diverse city workforce and the City Council’s recent vote to demolish dilapidated pools that had been closed in 2009 budget cuts.
On homelessness, Mason-Ford said her experience as a teacher for special-needs students and a nurse for people with mental illness would be an asset in addressing the problems.
“It is very unique to have that burden, and I know they are not wanting all of that there on East Lancaster,” Mason-Ford said of all the homeless services clustered on East Lancaster.
If elected, Mason-Ford said the fight against the distillery in the Rolling Hills neighborhood won’t be over.
“We are going to do whatever is necessary if I’m elected — protests, constituents coming to speak — whatever we need to do that since we were not for that, that the property is taken care of and that we will get some economic development,” she said.
On pensions, Mason-Ford said she would need to review those changes once she takes office.
Mason-Ford went to St. Joseph's Training School for Nurses, which is no longer active, and earned her associate degree from Tarrant County College.
She is an ordained minister with Churches of Christ of Texas and is chief executive officer of Sharon’s Agape Sales Co. She works as a special-education teacher for adults for the Fort Worth school district but is retiring this year. She is president of the Minister Derek Locke Scholarship Foundation, which spreads awareness about combating violence in the community. She has been active in parent teacher associations and has been on the Juneteenth Committee since 1996.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984