Glen Garden neighbors to oppose distillery plan

06/03/2014 8:52 PM

06/03/2014 10:13 PM

The possibility that Glen Garden Country Club will become a distillery has some of its neighbors looking for divine intervention.

On Tuesday night, they gathered for a prayer service at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, across the street from the 106-acre country club in southeast Fort Worth.

Organizers said they hoped to generate opposition to a rezoning request for the city’s second-oldest country club.

Glen Garden, where golf legends Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson were once caddies, is under contract to be sold to Firestone & Robertson Distilling of Fort Worth. The owners, Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, have said they’ve outgrown their current location at 901 W. Vickery Blvd.

Neighborhood leaders say they are trying to get people to speak against the proposal before the city’s Zoning Commission on June 11. After the zoning commission votes, the case will go to the City Council on July 15.

About 50 people attended the service Tuesday evening. A few wore golf attire to show their solidarity for the sport and the neighborhood. Golf bags with sets of clubs lined the entrance to the church.

Among the speakers was Howard Rattliff Jr., one of the organizers.

Rattliff, dressed in golf gear, said he has been a member of Glen Garden since 1993. He plays all over the city, he said, but prefers to play there to support the neighborhood.

He said that he toured the existing distillery on Vickery and was “somewhat impressed with the operation.” But, he added, he still worries that it would harm the neighborhood.

“With schools nearby and churches nearby, it’s just out of place,” Rattliff said. “And that’s not to mention the historical aspect. Look at Hogan and Nelson — you’re looking at destroying a whole course where they learned to play. Even without them, there’s so much golf history there.”

Rattliff’s son, Howard Rattliff III, learned to play at Glen Garden, and now he hopes to earn a spot on the TCU golf team.

“It’s really a great course,” he said. “We’ll be sad to see it go.”

Marie Love, president of the Glencrest Civic League, said she believes that most residents in the neighborhoods near Glen Garden oppose the idea, as do a number of churches.

“We’re hoping we can get it dissolved at zoning,” she said. “But I don’t know how the mayor or the City Council feel about it.”

The distillery owners plan to turn the club into a distillery and meeting center. But they say they would keep the pastoral setting with the intention of making it similar to what is seen along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or at popular California vineyards.

They predict that the distillery would become a tourist attraction and draw more economic development to southeast Fort Worth.

Firestone & Robertson’s TX Whiskey was named “Best American Craft Whiskey” in 2013.

“We feel like we’ve made some good headway,” Firestone said. “We’ve got some people who are willing to step forward.”

One of those is Terri Walker Burson. She lives across from Glen Garden and was initially skeptical about the idea. Then she toured the facility on Vickery and was impressed. She didn’t smell any odors and found the business well-maintained.

“One of my concerns is if the golf course is purchased by a developer and puts apartments or tract homes there,” Burson said. “It’s a unique neighborhood, and I don’t want to see tract homes placed there. I think that would cause my property values to drop.”

She knows that some of her neighbors oppose the distillery, she said, but doesn’t believe all of them have learned how it could benefit the neighborhood. As for concerns about liquor, she’s more worried about retail stores in the area.

“There wasn’t a concern with Miller Brewery,” she said. “Why should there be with them? If there is an issue, it should be with food marts selling alcohol in the area.”

At the West Vickery location, more than 10,000 people have toured the facility, and it is popular with conventioneers, Firestone said.

“Unique distilleries like Firestone & Robertson are hot with consumers, and we frequently refer convention and meeting planners to them,” said Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“When Fort Worth cultivates and supports these kind of local experiences, we provide more incentive for visitors to spend time and money here.”

Firestone said he and Robertson have tried to convince community leaders that the distillery can be “a building block” for the area.

“We took great pains to tell them that we are nothing like a liquor store,” Firestone said. “Very little liquor is sold on the premises.”

Whatever happens to Glen Garden, its open space should be valued, Fort Worth historian Quentin McGown said.

“There’s tradition there — it’s such a beautiful space,” McGown said. “There are long views. There are old trees. It’s an old landscape and those are disappearing pretty fast.”

Staff writer Bill Miller contributed to this report.

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