In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth leaders, District 7 council member Leonard Firestone explains how he has prioritized easing traffic congestion and facilitated an agreement between the Bowie House hotel developer and its neighbors.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Jessica Priest: District 7 is the fastest-growing City Council district, according to the 2020 Census. The population there grew by 76% in the past decade. The Black, Hispanic or Latino and Asian populations had the most growth. What are your thoughts about this growth?
Leonard Firestone: It’s pretty extraordinary. It’s exciting on one hand that people want to move here and live here. That’s great, of course, because that means there’s a lot of opportunity and reasons to move here. It also means that we’ve got a lot of people moving here that we have to take care of, and we need to provide housing, we need to provide the infrastructure around it, and that can be complicated. On the north side of the district, particularly, we’ve seen a lot of that growth. The economic growth with Alliance up there and Hillwood is amazing, and then we have a lot of neighborhood growth as well. But as a result of all that growth, there’s a bunch of congestion. And there’s a lot of issues that people have with just transportation and mobility, which are causing some headaches and some very real issues around emergency response times and emergency services, and overall, just quality of life things. Getting to the supermarket takes some people a half an hour. So it’s definitely complicated up there in particular; it’s the good news/bad news as I described it.
Priest: That kind of leads me into my next few questions for you. Prior to your election, you told Community Impact Newspaper that your top priorities would be lowering property taxes, improving traffic flow, ensuring quick police, fire and EMS response times and helping neighborhoods fight back against commercial encroachment. Recognizing that you can’t do everything at once, which of these priorities has risen to the top now that you’re on council?
Firestone: One that I can share is Jake Wurman, who also ran for District 7, he lives up in the far north and is intimately aware of all the congestion issues up there and has been working in that area with the ISDs and tracking the problems. I’ve asked him to be my representative on the zoning commission because I think he does have some great insight from the north side that we need to bring into council. I think it’d be really beneficial. Addressing that problem up there was really one of the first and foremost things I wanted to do.
Priest: In July, city staff presented City Council with projects it recommends be a part of a $500 million dollar bond package it is going to ask voters to approve in May 2022. Do you think some of those projects will address some of the traffic congestion?
Firestone: 100%. … what we’re really focusing on
— just to kind of give you a macro picture of it — is the east to west arterials . .… There’s actually two bonds that are in front of us. There’s the Tarrant County bond, which will be voted on in November, and then the city’s bond, which will be in May 2020. In Tarrant County, their bond package is about $400 million. And from what I saw in terms of rankings of projects, the north side of District 7 is going to receive just about $150 million of that, well over 60% of the total. …
|Project||Project limits||Project description|
|Avondale Haslet Road||Willow Creek Drive to east Fort Worth city limit at John Day Road||Construction of 2.43 miles of 4-lane divided thoroughfare|
|Bonds Ranch Road and Wagley Robertson||US 287 SB SR to Wagley Robertson Road||Design and construction of 1.03 miles of 4-lane divided thoroughfare|
|Park Vista Boulevard||Keller Haslet Road to 415 feet north of Timberland Boulevard||Design and construction of 0.47 miles of two additional lanes of traffic to complete the ultimate 4-lane divided thoroughfare designated by the MTP|
|Keller Hicks Road||Lauren Way to Park Vista Boulevard||Design and construction of 0.64 miles of 3-lane undivided thoroughfare|
|Heritage Trace Parkway 1||Wagley Robertson Road to Saginaw Boulevard||Design and construction of 1.2 miles of 4-lane divided thoroughfare|
Priest: As co-founder of Firestone and Robertson Distillery Company, you were involved in redeveloping the Glen Garden Country Club in southeast Fort Worth into Whiskey Ranch. I was doing some research, and I saw that there was some neighborhood opposition to that. Now that you’re on council and you’re hearing from constituents who have strong opinions about the hotel on Camp Bowie, how has that experience influenced your approach?
Firestone: Yeah, it certainly has. It was or is an experience that I can bring to that conversation. The Bowie House is a good example. And I met with the developers just a couple of weeks ago and hadn’t had the chance to do that up until just a couple of weeks ago. In the time that I’ve been in council on that project, I’ve gotten a lot of comments from the neighbors about different questions, so my message to the developer was, “You’ve got to do a better job communicating. There’s too many question marks out there that really don’t have to be out there and shouldn’t be out there, so be proactive in sharing information, No. 1, and be transparent in what information you have.” … What we experienced was that information is powerful, and when you share it with people, so they know what to expect, they can tolerate a lot if they’re inconvenienced in some way or concerned. And oftentimes what we found
— and I think we have found with Bowie House as well — is that sometimes the concerns are warranted, but sometimes the concerns are unwarranted because it was a rumor that started to get passed around or just bad information that nobody knows really where it came from. And that can be really alarming to people, so you have to be proactive and so what we asked the developer to do, in fact, with that in mind, again, from my experience, we said, “We want you to set up a website. Set up a website that communicates in real time what’s going on with the project and the neighbors will know what to expect.” … I think that sets a really good tone from the top down, from ownership to the development to the neighborhood about what kind of neighbor you’re going to be in the future, and that’s really important.
Priest: Did they answer what days of week they’re going to do construction or what routes they’ll take in the city?
Firestone: Yeah. We came to an agreement. What I proposed was different from what the building permit allows from city ordinance. The compromise that we found was Monday through Friday they’ll be doing construction from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but no weekend construction. Once they basically get the structure of the building, what’s called topped off, meaning they’ve basically built the envelope of the building, they’ll be able to move to regular hours and include weekends. And that way, they can begin to do a seven-day schedule, but we would have abated the noise dramatically and disrupting that or having that as a real disruption to the neighborhood. I think everybody’s happy with that. It was a great compromise on everyone’s part. And then truck traffic we’re working through right now. But we want to minimize, both parties want to minimize the truck traffic on the bricks particularly because we’re worried about them getting torn up, of course, and that would be expensive and difficult to replace a ton of them. We’re working on the route right now. But the trucks will be coming off of Montgomery, taking that left up Camp Bowie, staying in one lane and not turning as much as possible, except for a left turn, probably onto Watonga, and then down Tulsa and then back onto Montgomery. We are trying to keep the trucks, as I said, off the bricks and out of the neighborhoods as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Priest: Well, is there anything else that you want people to know about you and about the district? You have a town hall coming up at 6 p.m. on Sept. 15 at Prairie Vista Middle School. What do you want to tell people about that?
Firestone: I really want to encourage people to come to it. … But for the bond itself, I would ask people to communicate with me or my office, Sami Roop is my district director. And let us know if there is a traffic situation that you’re aware of in the district, if there is some issue that you feel like you want to bring to our attention, because we don’t always know, the city doesn’t always know where the hotspots are. Plans are well intentioned, but they can change for a variety of reasons in terms of how those plans, from road planning and otherwise, how they pan out in reality. The city’s the first to raise its hand and say, “Let us know, and we’ll try to fix that problem if it’s not working the way we thought it should or would,” so I would encourage people to do that. I would also say that I’ve been so honored and excited to be in the position. It’s great. I’ve been joking with people that some people told me it was a part
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.