Waterside and Clearfork - competitive developments in southwest Fort Worth
Four years ago and a week apart from each other, the City Council approved multimillion-dollar incentives to longtime developers Terry Montesi and Crawford Edwards for their planned projects on separate yet storied tracts of land in southwest Fort Worth.
Despite their proximity, both projects were praised by city leaders as wonderful, nice additions to the city.
Waterside, Montesi's $185 million project, and Clearfork, Edwards' $300 million project, would complement each other in their mix of homes, shops and restaurants, they said. Among their victories so far, Waterside would score the coveted Whole Foods Market, and Clearfork would land the relocation of luxury retailer Neiman Marcus from Ridgmar Mall.
Less than 2 miles apart and straddling Bryant Irvin Road — and the Trinity River — the two projects have since become less than harmonious, with the competition escalating earlier this year when Montesi sought an amendment to its zoning plan to move a hotel site within Waterside.
Montesi and the residents in the third phase of Riverhills, an upscale residential development of Edwards' Cassco Development Co., hashed that plan out in 2014. One zoning commissioner politely called it a "well-vetted process."
Now, however, allegations of lies and distrust permeate the conversation from the developers and residents.
The competition reached a fever pitch at the May Zoning Commission meeting, so much so that frustrated commissioners said they needed to vote on something just to move the case on to the City Council.
"This has gotten to the point where it's too personal," Commissioner Wanda Conlin said.
Beth Welch, the commissioner representing Council District 3, where the developments are located, even waffled on making motions for the board to vote on. One time she asked to recommend approval for the amendment, and then switched and asked for denial. It was the denial vote that won.
"This has now become an issue beyond this commission," Welch said.
The City Council is scheduled to hear the case June 5, where both sides will again be able to give their arguments on the case.
District 3 Councilman Brian Byrd said he doesn't know what he'll recommend when the time comes, saying only that he has been talking "extensively" with both developers.
"I think there are good points on either side," Byrd said. "I want to make sure both know that I'm listening. I'm going to continue to listen all the way up to the council session, and then after I’ve heard everything, I’ll make a motion."
Earlier this year, Montesi filed a request to alter a site plan approved by the City Council in 2014, a plan that involved a good deal of input from the adjacent Riverhills neighborhood. The plan specifies what can be built where on Waterside's 63 acres, the former Lockheed Martin Recreation Association site. Montesi's Trademark Property Co. acquired the land in 2013.
Admitting the restaurant market in southwest Fort Worth is saturated and the need to look at other uses, Trademark wanted to pursue a $20 million, 119-room hotel Marriott project brought to them by Wisconsin-based Raymond Management Co. Raymond Management has three Fort Worth hotels, including the newly opened Hampton Inn & Suites across from the Convention Center downtown.
But where Raymond Management wants the hotel in Waterside, a location closer to the interior and to the stores and restaurants, isn't allowed by the site plan. The hotel could generate about $600,000 annually in property and hotel sales taxes, they said.
Montesi needs the amendment because the preferred site is 720 feet from eight homes in Riverhills, a subdivision on the east side of Bryant Irvin where homes sell for $1 million or more, when it should be at least 1,000 feet.
Development plans have two approved hotel sites within Waterside, one that is only about 500 feet from the homes. It's this site Montesi wants to swap with.
For three monthly zoning meetings, dozens of Riverhills residents have shown up to oppose the amendment. They say they wish Montesi would just stick to his plan and reference a 2016 zoning case that was filed by Audi dealer Bobby Baillargeon. Montesi said he would have done the project, but it was up to Baillargeon to get the needed zoning.
Riverhills residents opposed the dealership, proposed for Bryant Irvin Road. The Zoning Commission recommended denial, and Baillargeon dropped the request just before the City Council was to vote on it. Montesi now says Edwards rallied the Riverhills residents in opposition, just as he is against the hotel.
"The hotel we're proposing is barely visible" to the residents, Montesi said. "I'm telling you the truth. This is about someone who uses the bully pulpit of an HOA to weaponize the homeowners against us. This is a competitive situation."
Montesi said the two competed for Whole Foods. He said Cassco wanted the grocery store for the northeast corner of Arborlawn Drive and Bryant Irvin.
"Whole Foods came with us," Montesi said. Cassco, he said, is "not happy about that."
Edwards has attended the zoning hearings but has not spoken. When asked to comment, he's declined, saying he's "going to stay dark" on the case and the allegations levied by Montesi.
Edwards indicated he may break his silence at the June 5 City Council meeting.
Riverhills was developed by Cassco, the family-owned company that holds the pioneering Edwards Ranch land and behind the Clearfork project. The Riverhills Homeowners Association is governed by Cassco, which means it approves what homeowners can do with their properties.
In between the zoning hearings Trademark and Cassco have held meetings with Riverhills residents. Montesi and Edwards have met — once.
Montesi said he's made concessions on 13 issues bothering the residents, among them noise, the hotel's architecture, building height, signage and hotel pool hours. Montesi's even agreed to cap the number of hotels in Waterside to two and totaling no more than 250 rooms.
"We thought we were offering a big win," Montesi said. He said he later learned Edwards never passed the concessions to the Riverhills residents, rather they were told "they have nothing to gain" by supporting the amendment.
Michael Sanborn, a Riverhills resident and CEO of Baylor All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth, told the Zoning Commission this month that Riverhills residents were misinformed by Cassco about the zoning process, and that there was "militant pressure" to sign petitions opposing the hotel.
"It's a little disturbing to me," Sanborn said. "I believe strongly as a resident that these concessions are very, very important for the long-term success of our neighborhood, the long-term worth of our neighborhood."
Brent Dobbs, a second Riverhills resident, echoed Sanborn's concerns.
"There's some stuff going on that is personal," Dobbs said. "It is competitive and clouding what's going on here."
A vote for homeowners
Misty Ventura, an attorney representing the Riverhills homeowners association, said there is no misunderstanding or misinformation, and that the homeowners want Montesi to live by the 2014 plan. She said Montesi is playing fast and loose with the commitments he's made.
Actually, the homeowners like the closer hotel site because the elevation of the land would shield homeowners from most of what's ever built there, she said.
"The case is really about a zoning change, a zoning change of 18 acres that negatively impacts those homeowners closest to those 18 acres," Ventura said. "No one is discouraging development. It's a vote for homeowners."
In the case of the car dealership, and according to testimony from the zoning hearings, the owner had to commit to building below grade level to minimize what the residents could see. Moreover, in this current case, Montesi said he would keep to two stories what is built on that tract. The zoning plan allows for five stories.
Riverhills homeowner Blake Jordan said approving Montesi's request is paramount to making a bad deal.
"To these homeowners, there's one big thing at play, and that’s trust. Do we trust Trademark to be a good neighbor? Do we trust them with the values of our homes? Do we trust them to live up to their word?"