The owners of a whiskey distillery are heading to City Council on Tuesday to fight for the right to move their business to the middle of the Rolling Hills neighborhood even as area residents prepare to stand against the idea.
Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, the owners of Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., are under contract to purchase the historic Glen Garden Country Club in southeast Fort Worth, but must get the council to change the zoning of the land before the deal can move forward.
About 3,000 people have signed a petition against the plan, however, citing a variety of concerns about increased traffic, noise, smells, drinking and driving incidents, potential fungus from producing whiskey and the offense of having a distillery near churches and schools.
Marie Love, president of The Glencrest Civic League Neighborhood Association, started fighting the proposed development shortly after it was brought to her attention in April, and the opposition has since organized committees to research and formulate arguments about their numerous concerns, hosted community meetings once a week to raise awareness and has held prayer events to pray against the zoning change.
Leonard Firestone, however, said the applicants plan to show the council that they have been good neighbors to businesses and residents at their current location at 901 W. Vickery Blvd., and give examples of how they would preserve the history of the club. Glen Garden, opened in 1912 by H.H. Cobb of the OK Cattle Co., is perhaps best known as the place where Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson once worked as caddies.
The owners also have a petition at change.org, which had almost 900 signatures by Friday afternoon, and Firestone said several people plan to speak in favor of the zoning change.
“The thing we are excited about is what they are speaking to really addresses a lot of the concerns the neighbors have in the Glen Garden area regarding traffic, noise and smell. They really are describing the reality that none of those occur or are a nuisance,” Firestone said.
Love said she is “puzzled” as to why they would want to put a distillery in a neighborhood instead of a commercial area.
“People drink, no big deal — we know people drink, but for it to sit in the middle of a neighborhood is very, very inappropriate,” she said.
In contrast, Firestone said the brewery would enhance the area.
“It is not offensive. It is not a detriment in any way to neighborhoods, but ultimately can only benefit the overall values and the entire character of these areas,” he said.
‘Such a gem’
The country club has been on the market for about two years, but Robert Stennett, executive director of the Ben Hogan Foundation, said his organization is opposed to the country club being turned into a distillery.
“It is just such a gem to the history of Fort Worth,” Stennett said about the course. “We are not opposed to the sale of it, we are just opposed to seeing that part of Fort Worth’s history lost. When we lose that history, we can’t ever repair it. And from Mr. Hogan’s foundation, one of the things we want to do is preserve the legacy.”
“We would love that distillery to come to Fort Worth and create jobs; we don’t have opposition against the distillery. All we are saying is there are a lot of other places that would be better suited and we wouldn’t lose the wonderful history,” Stennett said.
The requested zoning change from large, single-family lots to planned development with specific use for a distillery did not gain majority support from the Zoning Commission in June, with commission members voting 4-4 to approve the change. Because of the tie, the proposal will go to council showing the commission members recommended denial.
At itsr current location, more than 10,000 people have toured the distillery and numerous private parties have been held there, including fundraisers for Mayor Betsy Price and state Sen. Wendy Davis. Firestone & Robertson’s TX Whiskey was named “Best American Craft Whiskey” in 2013.
Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, who represents the area, said she plans to side with the neighborhood.