Armed with a Texas Attorney General opinion that he hopes will trump local ordinance, Dallas-based businessman Wallace Hall Jr. has hired a former Fort Worth city councilman to help him through the city's approval process for a long-sought-after concrete crushing facility on the city's near east side.
Since 2016, Hall has wanted a permit for a permanent concrete recycling facility for land he owns off East First Street, near Oakland Boulevard. The site is about a mile north of Nolan Catholic High School and adjacent to the White Lake Hills neighborhood.
It's not far from Riverbend Estates or Woodhaven, and all the neighborhoods oppose it. They cite health hazards, noise and truck traffic as some of the reasons.
So far, the City Council has rebuffed Hall's request for a zoning change that would allow the plant. Instead, Hall turned to the state and last August the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality awarded his company, East First Recycling Llc., a state air quality permit under the Texas Clean Air Act.
The TCEQ said it doesn't consider local zoning codes when it issues its permits. In April, Hall received an attorney general's opinion saying the TCEQ was correct in how it issued the permit. That opinion was sought by State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth.
Fort Worth sent a letter to the TCEQ opposing the permit application, as did hundreds of residents, many of whom crowded a TCEQ hearing about the proposed facility last summer.
But now, Hall is looking at taking advantage of a "conditional use permit" that could grant him the recycling facility for a specified amount of time, likely only enough time to remove the concrete piling up on the property. Hall has been legally accepting the concrete for years.
For about a decade, Fort Worth's planning and development staff has worked on a conditional use permit ordinance, but it has met resistance from the city's legal staff. That seems to be lessening now, said Jocelyn Murphy, Fort Worth's planning manager.
"There's so many places it would be perfect," said Murphy. She stresses that the Hall case is not influencing the possible new ordinance.
Basically, under a conditional use permit, the base zoning does not change, with the permit acting as an overlay for a specified time frame. Requirements can be added and permits can be revoked for misuse. A zoning commission hearing would still be required, as would a City Council vote.
Currently, land owners seek more restrictive planned development zoning when the proposed land use does not fit within a district or development standards.
Murphy said she hopes to have the conditional use permit available by the fall.
Former City Councilman Danny Scarth, principal of Riverwood Management consultants, said a conditional use permit could be a good thing in this case. Hall would likely apply for a two-year permit with an option to extend for one year, Scarth said.
Hall owns 369 acres in a flood plain along the Trinity River. About 269 acres of it is in a wetlands mitigation bank or is a dedicated valley storage area, both flood management tools. That allows the remaining 100 acres to be developed. Of that, about 40 acres is accessible, with the concrete blocking the remaining land, Scarth said.
"It's potentially a very beautiful site," Scarth said. "For one reason, you have all the lakes behind it. It's right on the Trinity Trails. That’s why I’m involved in it. The site so much better than people assume it is."
Hall will still have to overcome a lot of opposition to his project.
Scarth said it would cost too much to haul the concrete out, but east side leaders want to see a cost analysis. Moreover, they say they don't trust Hall, a controversial former University of Texas regent.
"I would support him hauling that off and then we'd bend over backwards to help him sell that property," said Alex Jimenez, president of East Fort Worth Inc., a business booster organization.
Linda Fulmer, president of the White Lake Hills Neighborhood Association, said, "We haven't seen any kind of third-party cost analysis. I don't know of anybody who likes the idea. We don't trust him."
District 4 Councilman Cary Moon, who has been opposed to Hall's project, said he would support it now if the neighborhoods agree to it.
But, Moon cautioned that if the goal is to bring economic development to the east side, having that acreage will help. He said he's confident he can attract a developer and knows "what we're left with" if the land is left as is.
"I've got a pretty good record of bringing development to east Fort Worth," said Moon, referring to the $50 million investment of two charter school campuses.
Moon said residents concerns about Hall are valid, but a conditional use permit can be crafted to prevent harm to the neighborhoods. Moon said he's only willing to allow a two-year permit.
"Fort Worth has developers looking for large tracts of land to develop. There's not a lot of land in east Fort Worth that's readily available," Moon said. They may ask for more than two years, he said. "I've made it real clear we're not" going to offer an extension.
"They'll just have to hustle," Moon said.