In an 8-1 vote Tuesday, the Fort Worth City Council moved ahead with council-initiated zoning changes for the historic Stockyards, despite being faced with a large and vocal crowd urging the council members to take their time deciding the fate of the proposed $175 million development by the Hickman family and Majestic Realty Co. of California.
“It is clear that Fort Worth cares deeply about the Stockyards. The Stockyards is Fort Worth,” said Councilman Sal Espino, who represents the area and made the motion to approve the zoning change, with the understanding that the city would create a form-based code and conduct a traffic study.
“At the end of the day, I am confident that by working together we will preserve the Western heritage, the beauty of the Stockyards that makes Fort Worth so special,” Espino said.
Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, at her first council meeting, voted against the change.
Much of the Stockyards, a major city tourist attraction, is zoned heavy industrial, which allows the most intensive industrial uses in the city, does not require a site plan and allows buildings up to 12 stories, said Dana Burghdoff, deputy director of planning and development.
The City Council request was to convert the area to mixed-use, planned development with a site plan required to provide protections until the council can approve a detailed, “form-based code” that would spell out final requirements for landscaping, building facades, lighting and sidewalks.
However, Steve Murrin, a former City Council member who is known as “the mayor of the Stockyards,” Concho Minick, president of Billy Bob’s Texas, and Donald Jury, chief financial officer for Billy Bob’s, spoke against the proposal, saying they were concerned about the development, including the compatibility of residential housing with the entertainment district, parking and involvement of other Stockyards stakeholders.
Minick urged the council to approve the form-based code first.
“I have been like a lot of other people in the Stockyards blindsided by the time schedule the council has chosen for this zoning request,” Murrin said.
The zoning request was fast-tracked out of the Fort Worth Zoning Commission, with most other cases from the July 9 meeting not scheduled to come before the council until Aug. 5. The zoning commission sent the proposed zoning changes back to the council with a recommendation for denial, with several commissioners expressing concerns that the project has been rushed through city processes without receiving enough public input.
“I’m just disappointed about the process. It just looks like the council has set itself up as the expert on what is best for the Stockyards.” Murrin said. “I don’t think anyone else in the Stockyards has been consulted.”
Mixed-use zoning allows residential development, which Jury said could threaten the entertainment industry, including Billy Bob’s.
The zoning change also allows for several types of businesses that would be suited for the Stockyards that are not normally allowed in mixed-use areas, including blacksmithing or wagon shops; breweries, distilleries or wineries; feed stores, livestock auctions; and stables.
Gary Brinkley, spokesman for the Hickman-Majestic partnership, said they support the zoning change because it will help protect the area.
“Under the current zoning, the Stockyards is vulnerable to almost any type of building, business or industry, including junkyards, machine shops, truck terminals and even correctional facilities,” Brinkley said. “There is little, if any, protection for our Western heritage, which you and I and the rest of us want to protect and enhance.”
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 in either zoning category.
The development, which could include hotels, residences, corporate headquarters and livestock auctions, was announced June 3, but opposition quickly arose 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 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 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.