Fort Worth council approves zoning for Wal-Mart market

FORT WORTH -- In a decision that divided residents of several south-side neighborhoods and upset at least one council member, the Fort Worth City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday night to approve zoning variances for a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market but included restrictions that prohibit fuel sales and leave a parcel along West Berry Street undeveloped for now.

The vote came on a substitute motion by Councilman Sal Espino that included last-minute compromises suggested by Wal-Mart.

Councilman Joel Burns, who represents the neighborhoods the store would serve, had offered his own motion for approval. His motion would have prevented Wal-Mart from paving 14 parking spaces until development took place on a parcel of the lot that fronts West Berry. During discussion, council members initially signaled support for Burns' recommendation but changed their minds after hearing from Wal-Mart.

Tom Galbreath, who represented Wal-Mart, said that Burns' recommendation was unacceptable and that it would take out 25 parking spaces. Galbreath also said Wal-Mart would be willing to share parking spaces with a building along West Berry and restated that the retailer was prepared to renovate the building on the site, a former Safeway grocery store, if it did not get the variances.

"This does not work for us," Galbraith said. "I'm sorry."

Councilman Jungus Jordan joined Burns in voting against Espino's motion.

"I find this unfortunate and incredibly surprising," Burns said.

Urban village

The site is at West Berry and Hemphill streets. The former Safeway building was remodeled for use as an activities building by Travis Avenue Baptist Church.

The Wal-Mart market would be the company's first in the city's interior and could spur development along Hemphill. But the location is also in the heart of the city's 10-year-old Hemphill/Berry Urban Village, and neighborhood associations wanted Wal-Mart's architects to make the building more street-friendly and blend in better with surrounding older homes.

"In their disappointing vote, Councilman Espino and others on our council have damaged the city's commitment to urban villages and the quality economic development that supports a strong tax base and provides the jobs our citizens need now," Burns said in a statement after the meeting.

Negotiations broke down last week between Wal-Mart and several neighborhood organizations when the retailer refused to set aside land fronting West Berry for future development. But talks heated up again shortly before the meeting.

The Zoning Commission voted in early February 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 had said that he would not ask for another delay.

During the hearing Tuesday night, residents spoke for and against Wal-Mart's plans.

"I cannot see how we can deny these zoning waivers compared to what we currently have," Juanita Jimenez said.

Others said that the proposed plan was unworkable and that they would prefer to see the old building renovated rather than give in on the urban village concept.

Sandra Dennehy, chairwoman of the Berry Street Initiative, said sticking to the urban village guidelines would yield higher taxable values for the city.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698