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Fort Worth council approves Stockyards incentives, but puts zoning restrictions into place

By Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth City council members voted 8-1 for a compromise deal late Tuesday that grants incentives to a major Stockyards development group, but makes the package contingent upon the implementation of a new interim zoning overlay that would eventually be replaced by a special Stockyards zoning district to be created.

Council members voted 8-1, with Joel Burns voting no in his last meeting as the city’s District 9 representative and criticizing his colleagues for being afraid of upsetting a property owner. More than two dozen people spoke in favor of a delay Tuesday night, saying the conversation had been rushed and safeguards to protect the Stockyards should be in place before the incentive package was approved.

“There is example after example of opportunities that we are missing because we are afraid of upsetting the owner,” Burns said, to applause. “We’re about to do the same thing.”

“I think it’s the best deal we could get,” former Councilman Steve Murrin, who had heavily lobbied the council for a postponement and helped round up nearly 30 people to speak for a delay, said.

The components of the motion that passed:

The Stockyards district east of North Main Street will be temporarily zoned planned development/mixed use-2, with site plan required. That will go before the Zoning Commission July 9, and the City Council July 15.

No property owner in the affected area can file plats or building permits, unless under mixed use-2 with a site plan.

The Chapter 380 incentive agreement for the development group - a partnership of Majestic Realty and Fort Worth’s Hickman family, long the Stockyards’ largest property owner - doesn’t become effective until the interim planned development zoning goes into place. Majestic and the Hickmans are seeking up to $26 million in incentives over 25 years for their projected 1 million-square-foot, $175 million development and redevelopment project.

The city will immediately begin working on a new form-based code overlay that will replace the interim planned development zoning.

Form-based codes are a type of land use regulation that focuses on buildings in relation to the areas around them, including form and scale. It could take several months to develop the form-based codes.

Councilman Sal Espino, who represents the North Side, said in an interview afterwards that the vote will “take the Stockyards to the next level.”

Jerre Tracy, executive director of Historic Fort Worth, said the pieces don’t do enough to preserve the Stockyards’ history. Some of the existing structures, she pointed out, have less than the highest level of historic protection. And much of the unimproved pieces of the Majestic-Hickman partnership, have no historic designation.

She had recommended the council put off the incentive vote and implement a historic and cultural overlay, which would force any new construction or changes to historic buildings in the district to go through the city’s Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission.

“Historic designations can work in tandem with form-based codes, but you’ve got to have the historic designation first,” she said.

The city will shape the form-based codes in conversations with the property owners.

“I think this form-based code has a chance depending on how you put it together,” Murrin said. “I hope it has a little backbone.”

Mayor Betsy Price said at the opening of the debate, “this is a remarkable opportunity, but it cannot come at the expense of the Stockyards. The Stockyards are a true treasure for us, and we’ve got one shot at doing it right.”

Price said had been “a lot of misinformation” and misperceptions about the intentions of the Majestic-Hickman partnership. Majestic has a background in industrial parks, not in historical preservation, and Stockyards skeptics have raised the prospect of a Target superstore on the property.

Majestic and HIckman have said destination retail, restaurants, corporate offices, hotels, and craft breweries are possible tenants for the project.

The partnership takes in Hickman properties such as Stockyards Station and the old Mule Barns, cattle pens, and vacant pieces that run along Packers Street and Niles City Boulevard. Businessman Holt Hickman began buying the property in the 1980s and turned the old hog and sheep pens into the Stockyards Station festival center.

“We would never stand for it to be turned into a warehouse or a strip mall; that’s not what’s being proposed here,” Price said.

Craig Cavileer, a Majestic vice president, and Brad Hickman, a Hickman vice president and son of Holt Hickman, maintain their development will be appropriate to the Stockyards’ flavor and history and extend the brand. They said the motion the council passed will protect the Stockyards.

“We can come up with a collaborative plan,” Cavileer said.

'“You don’t want to have something that’s architecturally correct and somebody goes right next door to it and builds a 20-story glass tower,” Hickman said. “People that come down here have to be impressed by it, so they’ll tell their friends to come.”

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