Talks for Wal-Mart market in south Fort Worth break down

FORT WORTH -- Negotiations between Wal-Mart and key neighborhood organizations in south Fort Worth have stalled over plans for a grocery store, with Wal-Mart unwilling to set aside land fronting Berry Street for future development.

Without changes, City Councilman Joel Burns, whose district includes the site, told the Star-Telegram on Friday that he would oppose Wal-Mart's request for several variances on the site at the southwest corner of Hemphill and Berry streets.

"I cannot support the current proposal," Burns said.

The council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the case. The Fort Worth Zoning Commission in early February voted to recommend rejection of Wal-Mart's petition. A week later, the council delayed a vote and directed the two sides to seek a compromise. Burns said Friday that he would not ask for another delay.

Under City Council protocol, members typically defer to the wishes of the council member where the zoning case is located, but there have been exceptions. It would take a majority of the council to approve the variances.

Wal-Mart, which has the site under contract from Travis Avenue Baptist Church, would raze a church fellowship hall and build a Neighborhood Market.

Wal-Mart is seeking four waivers from mixed-use zoning, including the right to put a parking lot in front of the building rather than in back, and an exception to the minimum 20-foot setback rule.

Neighborhood representatives say the plan doesn't fit the city's Hemphill/Berry Urban Village plan, which calls for buildings that hug street fronts and sport lots of windows to attract pedestrians. Wal-Mart says it can't run its building up to Berry Street, because a small strip shopping center is in the way and not for sale. The company says it will rehab the existing church building if it doesn't win its waiver request.

In a private Feb. 21 meeting with Burns and Wal-Mart representatives, members of the Hemphill Corridor Task Force, Berry Street Initiative and South Hemphill Heights Neighborhood Association asked Wal-Mart to set aside the Berry Street parking frontage, replat it for future development, let the church retain ownership, push a sign off the street front, and carve out the Berry Street driveway as an easement, neighborhood representatives said Friday.

The groups had already pressed those ideas in conversations with Wal-Mart. Street-front parking and signs "go to the perception the property is not available," said Sandra Dennehy, chairwoman of the Berry Street Initiative.

Wal-Mart proposed to lease the land instead of replat it, avoiding environmental studies; set aside half the area requested; retain ownership of the driveway; and install its Berry Street sign closer to the street, they said.

In recent days, Wal-Mart distributed fliers encouraging residents to show up at Tuesday's 7 p.m. council meeting and support the store. Numerous residents have spoken up for Wal-Mart at neighborhood meetings and before the zoning board and council.

Dennehy said Wal-Mart "didn't offer anything, any safeguard, any mechanism that would encourage future development" of the Berry Street frontage.

Kellie Duhr, a Wal-Mart representative, said the company determined that it couldn't surrender any more parking.

The one-third-acre Berry Street frontage included 35 parking spaces and represented 22 percent of Wal-Mart's total planned parking, Duhr said.

Wal-Mart conveyed that answer to Burns on Thursday, she said.

Burns said he was "disappointed that Wal-Mart was willing to walk away over 20 parking spaces."

Scott Nishimura,