Fort Worth

July 9, 2014

Stockyards plan rejected by zoning commission

Fort Worth zoning commissioners say a $175 million development proposed for the Stockyards needs more scrutiny and time for public comment.

A proposed $175 million development in the historic Stockyards failed to gain zoning commission approval, with concerned commissioners saying the deal needs more scrutiny and time for community members to comment.

In a 4-3 vote, the commission is recommending that the Fort Worth City Council deny the proposed zoning changes. Five votes in favor of the zoning change were needed for Zoning Commission approval. Commissioner Robert West was absent.

The council-initiated zoning changes are an attempt to preserve the historic nature of the Stockyards in light of the proposed development by the Hickman family and Majestic Realty Co. of California. Announced June 3, opposition quickly came 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.

The council, in an expedited process, is expected to vote on the zoning changes at Tuesday’s meeting.

On Wednesday, after more than an hour of discussion and public comment, planning and zoning commissioners Will Northern, Namon Hollis and Gaye Reed contended that the changes had been pushed through the city process too fast and voted against a motion to approve rezoning the development site from heavy industrial to planned development/mixed use.

Commissioners Nick Genua, Carlos Flores, Charles Edmonds and Wanda Collins voted in favor of the zoning changes, which would encompass 175 acres around Exchange Avenue, bordered by Northeast 28th Street to the north, North Main Street to the west, Northeast 23rd Street to the south and the Fort Worth & Western railroad to the east.

“I have a real problem with how quickly this was put in front of the community and in front of us,” said Reed, adding that she is “afraid they [the City Council] are going to choose to go forward.”

Commission Chairman Genua said he is as “conflicted about this case as any other case I’ve ever been conflicted with,” though he ultimately voted in favor of the motion.

Flores, the commissioner who represents the area, made the motion to approve the zoning, saying, “We can move forward with some level of confidence on this case.”

‘Sounds like a freight train’

Steve Murrin, a former City Council member who is known as “the mayor of the Stockyards,” said Wednesday that he is still concerned about how the development has been rushed through city processes.

“It sounds like a freight train. I don’t know if we have been hit by the front engine or the caboose, or if the train has already passed,” Murrin said at the meeting.

After the meeting Brad Hickman, vice president of the Hickman Cos., and Craig Cavileer, Majestic Realty’s executive vice president, said they supported the council’s efforts to rezone the area to better protect the city.

“We are looking for a cohesive development that represents our Western heritage and continues that tradition,” Hickman said. “My father has demonstrated that over and over and over and time and time again. I think his track record is pretty good.”

However, Murrin, Concho Minick, president of Billy Bob’s Texas, and Donald Jury, chief financial officer for Billy Bob’s, said they are also worried that the mixed-use zoning would allow residential development, which could threaten the thriving entertainment district.

Jury said he hopes the zoning commission vote will encourage council members to take a harder look at the development ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

Several types of businesses that would be suited for the Stockyards were added Wednesday to the zoning changes, including blacksmithing or wagon shops; brewpubs; breweries, distilleries or wineries; feed stores, livestock auctions; and stables.

The west side of Main Street is already zoned mixed-use and many of the structures in the Stockyards are designated as local and state landmarks, which carry regulatory implications if changes are suggested.

Tax incentives

The City Council voted 8-1 on June 10 to grant incentives on the deal, based on the zoning changes being approved. The incentive payout approved by the council is capped at $26 million based on the value of today’s dollar.

If the project reaches the potential envisioned by the developers, city estimates show that the Hickman-Heritage group could receive as much as $67 million over the course of the 25 years. The developers must invest $175 million in the project in the next decade to receive the full incentive; otherwise the amount is reduced.

In another effort to allay concerns, the city hosted a public meeting on June 26 to explain the zoning recommendations and take suggestions. More than 60 business owners and residents showed up to ask questions about the changes.

The project, with three planned phases, could include hotels, residences, corporate headquarters and livestock auctions.

The Hickman family has invested over $1 million in preserving the Livestock Exchange Building and invested another $1 million to buy a historical cowboy lifestyle wagon collection and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame collection, moving both to the Stockyards.

Majestic Realty, the country’s largest privately held real estate company, has worked with the Hickman family on the project for 21/2 years.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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