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Glen Garden rezoning for distillery, attraction, goes forward on 7-2 Fort Worth council vote

By Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth City Council members on Tuesday approved a controversial proposal to convert Fort Worth’s historic Glen Garden Country Club into a whiskey distillery and visitor attraction.

Council members approved the rezoning on a 7-2 vote, with Council members Kelly Gray and Gyna Bivens voting no.

Gray, who represents the Southeast Fort Worth district home to Glen Garden, had moved to deny the rezoning, with Bivens seconding.

Mayor Pro Tem W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman then made a substitute motion to approve the rezoning, with Councilman Dennis Shingleton seconding. The Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. had submitted a layout depicting the position of buildings on the property, and Zimmernan's motion required that to be set as a formal site plan that the company must adhere to.

Because property owners representing more than 20 percent of the land mass within 200 feet of the property line had registered opposition, that triggered a “super-majority” requirement under state law that seven members would have to vote to approve the rezoning.

The Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. in Fort Worth has the site under option to buy and sought the rezoning to allow a distillery, related uses, and lodging.

“There’s saying the devil you know may be better than the devil you don’t inow,” Zimmerman told the packed City Council chambers before Gray made her initial motion. “Nobody has come forward and said we’ve got a group that’s willing to invest, to buy and preserve the golf course.”

Shingleton said he’d heard over and over again that Southeast Fort Worth residents want more economic development.

“You have to take it when you get it,” he said, to hoots from some opponents. “This is a great project. This is not going to work just anywhere. This is going to work in this neighborhood.”

Gray said during an appearance in the district with Mayor Betsy Price on Saturday that she would move to deny the rezoning, siding with the opposition. Price, asked by The Business Press on Saturday whether a substitute motion was possible, responded, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Gray, who has jousted with neighborhood leaders over economic development since her election two years ago, told constituents before her motion that they have to come together.

“We can’t be divided,” she said. “We can’t continually be on opposite sides of issues. We have to figure out a way to come together.”

Numerous people spoke to the council, in support and opposition.

The Rev. B.R. Daniels, pastor of a church near Glen Garden, told the council the Firestone & Robertson plan was strong. He predicted low-income housing would come to Glen Garden if the council denied the rezoning.

“Instead of criticizing and sneering, think about what will happen to that land if in fact this does not get approved,” Daniels said.

“We want this neighborhood to remain a community,” Howard Rattliff, Jr., a Glencrest resident and computer company owner who has been organizing opposition, told council members. “It is a golf community, and we want it to remain a golf community. It is a neighborhood of churches. We have 80 of them in our community.”

Businessman Jim Austin noted Firestone and Robertson plan to invest $15 million in improvements to the club, which he said will generate jobs and raise property values.

“If they’re going to be spending $15 million in our community, that’s an opportunity for minority companies to participate,” he said.

Marty Leonard, whose father Marvin founded Colonial Country Club and Shady Oaks Country Club and was friends with golf legends Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, who caddied at Glen Garden, told the council she was opposed to the rezoning.

“My belief is there is a way to preserve the golf course in his historic state and still remain the highest and best use for this property,” Leonard told the council.

Owners Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson envision a visitor draw like Kentucky’s farm distilleries and California’s wine estates.

The facility would offer tastings, tours, and special event bookings. The distillery and a visitors center would be placed around a scenic lake on the property. Firestone and Robertson say they would retain 11 golf holes and plan to invest $15 million in improvements at Glen Garden.

“We have a safe and prospering business” that will bring economic development to Southeast Fort Worth, Robertson told the council Tuesday.

Of the 25 percent of land mass owners counted as opposed, Robertson told the council, “we cannot forget about the other 75 percent who are not opposed.”

Opposing homeowners said the case has been rushed. They raised questions about noise, traffic, fungus, traffic, drinking and driving, loss of history, and the morality of putting a distillery in an area dominated by conservative churches.

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