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Fort Worth zoning commission struggles over Stockyards overlay

By Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

The Fort Worth Zoning Commission on Wednesday voted 4-3 for a temporary zoning overlay to protect the historic Stockyards, but the case goes to the City Council next week as a recommended denial because it lacked a required five votes in favor.

Commissioners Carlos Flores, who represents the North Side, Nick Genua, Wanda Conlin, and Charles Edmonds voted to approve the overlay. Commissioners Gaye Reed, Will Northern, and Namon Hollis, Jr., voted against. Commissioners Bob West and Melissa McDougall were absent.

The council will vote July 15. The zoning commissioners, as they struggled with details of the proposed overlay, acknowledged that Mayor Betsy Price and the City Council had directed the staff to come up with new zoning measures that would allay fears of many critics of a proposed major mixed-use Stockyards redevelopment. Price has already said she believes the redevelopment, by a partnership of Fort Worth’s Hickman family and Majestic Realty of California, will enhance the Stockyards and its big tourism draw.

“i will not vote to approve this zoning, but that doesn’t mean anything when it gets to council,” Reed said.

“I think we need to get it in front of the people who can actually make a decision,” Conlin said. “I believe there are enough people who are interested in maintaining the texture of the Stockyards that they can be very persuasive in front of the City Council."

The proposed $175 million redevelopment includes much of the Hickman family’s Stockyards real estate holdings, including the Stockyards Station festival center, historic Mule Barns, cattle pens, and Swift-Armour “ruins” off of Niles City Boulevard.

It does not include the Hickmans’ Livestock Exchange Building or the holdings of the Stockyards 2000 partnership, which include Billy Bob’s Texas and which the Hickmans own in partnership with several other families, including former City Councilman Steve Murrin, who maintains the zoning measures are rushed and that the Hickman-Majestic partnership won’t commit to maintaining the historical flavor of the Stockyards, once one of the world’s largest livestock processing centers.

The temporary zoning overlay, if approved by the council, would be in place until the city staff and council implement a permanent set of form-based codes - a type of land use regulation that can cover everything from the look of buildings, to setbacks, engagement with the streetfront and other surrounding buildings, and landscaping. The codes would be developed in talks with Stockyards stakeholders.

The overlay would rezone the historic Stockyards east of North Main Street and along East Exchange Street to planned development requiring a site plan for any redevelopment plan that’s filed while the city implements the form-based codes. The overlay would retain the current historic designations on the various pieces of the property the overlay covers, but critics complain are too lax in several cases.

Several speakers appeared before the commission Wednesday.

“The Stockyards were built by fiery individuals, and that corporate culture still exists today,” Gary Brinkley, general manager of Stockyards Station, said, speaking for the Majestic-Hickman partnership.

Don Jury, managing partner of Stockyards 2000, said he favored the redevelopment in general. But he said a planned residential component would end up squeezing out Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honky-tonk and major tourist draw.

“If you put housing in the Stockyards anywhere in the vicinity of Billy Bob’s, the club will close eventually,” Jury predicted, saying residents would complain about noise, which would lead to a diminution of the club. “What happens is, the housing takes over.”

Mike Costanza, Sr., who owns 12 acres in the Stockyards including a site on East Exchange Avenue contiguous to the redevelopment, said, “i understand exactly what the developers are looking to do, and I put my full faith in the city as far as protecting the Stockyards.”

Murrin, who has led the skeptics in voicing his thoughts publicly, told the commissioners, “maintaining the atmosphere that the visitors see when they come into the area…is a very very very fragile process. Improper zoning will erase 40 years of work with the stroke of a pen, potentially.”

“It is a complex case with many facets,” Flores said, after he made the motion to approve the zoning overlay. “I keep returning to the fact that this is a zoning request to change the zoning into a holding zoning category.”

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