In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth leaders, District 3 council member Michael Crain talks about how he’s balancing the needs of constituents whose median household income can range anywhere between $26,477 to $104,335.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please watch the video attached to this article.
Jessica Priest: How does being a real estate agent inform your work now as a City Council member? There’s a lot of talk about redevelopment but not wanting to price people out of their homes.
Michael Crain: I would say my background as a real estate agent and a broker puts perspective in a lot of different ways. A big part of what we do and that people don’t understand I think is zoning. We’re rezoning properties. So when we’re looking at it, I can maybe look at it from two different perspectives, not only the neighborhood that this might be affecting, but also the developers. I can have those conversations with developers that I don’t think other people can have because I understand what they’re trying to do. In the west part of Fort Worth, they’re buying properties and, for the most part, trying to put as many houses they can to make the most money. So I’ve been able to maybe help some neighborhoods because I can have those honest conversations and maybe suggest some other things to those developers, maybe some buffer zones so they don’t butt up against the other neighborhoods. I think being an active real estate agent helps in a lot of different ways.
Priest: The big news in your district is the potential for an electric car manufacturer, Rivian, to come into the Walsh Ranch area. How are you preparing for the growth that would happen should that come and the growth that’s already happening there?
Crain: I’ve probably had conversations with all 10 to 12 ranches that are opening out there. … This is the far west side of Fort Worth over at Walsh, but I’ve talked to other council members and staff because I want to make sure that people in other parts of the city can benefit from this, too, much like we did with Alliance of getting transportation for people to get up to jobs there from other parts of the city. … I am setting up meetings with all those ranches or the developers and people that represent them with Dana Burghdoff, our assistant city manager over planning, just so we can map out what that looks like, and we don’t end up with the same problems they have in the north where it was patchworked together and they didn’t necessarily anticipate the growth as it was…
Priest: Is it important to you to create green space so there’s not an impact on Fort Worth at large with flooding?
Crain: Every development now as it’s passed through has to have a certain amount of green space … and depending on the size, they also have to anticipate that they may need an elementary school or some other school on it. One of the ranches that’s out there now has space for a high school. I think that’s technically in Aledo ISD, but they have to work that into the plans. … I understand and I hear from folks that, “Oh, it’s going to be all concrete,” but I think we do a good job of sort of mitigating that and keeping some green space within developments.
Priest: And how are you going to get people there from other parts of the city if the city is kind of limited on what it can contribute to Trinity Metro?
Crain: That’s a big concern as I already brought up about getting people there. We’ll rely on Trinity Metro. We’ll have to work that out. Another big part of that is I’ve been working with TxDOT and I’m now on the executive committee of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which oversees all the other committees including the regional transportation committee that sort of master plans everything out. But there are plans already to widen I-30. If you travel in the sort of busy times on I-30 as you’re trying to get outside of I-20, it can back up to Ridgmar Mall. … And on the other side, if you go outside 820, we’ll be widening it there and looking for alternative entrances and exits to all the development that’s going along there. That’s at least the conversation I’m having with Michael Morris (the director of transportation at the North Central Texas Council of Governments) and the group over there of what we do over there.
Priest: I noticed that your district doesn’t have a ton of 2022 city bond projects but you said on the campaign trail that addressing critical infrastructure needs was important to you. How do you feel about that?
Crain: One of the things that is new this year in our bond is we’re looking at equity. And so as you look through those projects I’ve noticed that, too, and I’ve voiced that piece, but the parts that are in the bond are in Como. We’re looking at the fire station there. It’s a fire station that not only serves Como but serves Ridglea North and the Ridglea area. It’s very small. It’s antiquated for the population it’s serving, so that sort of falls into equity, rebuilding that, because it’s in Como, it’s adjacent to Como, but it’s in District 3 and serves those residents, too. I think that with the bond overall we always have to be careful about putting too much on there, meaning making the bond so high that it affects our credit rating and everything else. I’m proud of what City Manager David Cooke has done and put in place. I think I’m OK with the way it’s working out because also in there are plenty of streets that need to be redone. I know that’s a big piece of it. There are also some water mains and other things that will be looked at.
Priest: Speaking of Como, InTown, a company known for building homes that cost upwards of $800,000 plans to build southeast of the Como neighborhood. Do you know what the homes’ price range will be? Have you talked to the developer?
Crain: I haven’t. It sounds like they have already done what I would suggest when someone comes to me is go to the neighborhood association. Como has a very active neighborhood association. … I don’t know if these are already zoned. Again, if it’s already zoned A5 or some sort of zoning for single family, I’ll never touch it. They can automatically go get permits, but if it’s zoned something else, then it has to come to the council for a vote. I’m looking forward to having a conversation with them to see exactly what they’re doing.
Priest: What would you like to see there? I mean, do you want $800,000 homes there?
Crain: No, that gets into the gentrification question, especially in Como. Como is a really special place to me. … I probably have the most economically diverse district. I’ve got Como and Las Vegas Trail and then on the other side of that I’ve got Montserrat and Mira Vista. … I don’t want it to be gentrified … so I want to get more research to see what these guys are doing.
Priest: What are some of the issues facing Como?
Crain: I’ll tell you some good things that are happening in Como. They are part of the neighborhood improvement program. It’s $3.2 million that’s going in. Every year, we award one of these … Northside has gotten it. Rosemont has gotten it and there’s three or four places on the east side, so I was excited when they announced last year that it was Como because the community gets to decide where the money is spent. They voted to put some sign toppers out identifying themselves as Como, streets, lights and some Flock cameras to identify all the illegal dumpers down there. … There was some controversy about putting too many (cameras) in there and being overpoliced so the community talked again and decided to pull some out. … And then we have a $6.8 million grant that’s coming that will rescape Horne Street. The best I can liken it to is what we’ve done to South Main to make it more attractive for small businesses to set up. They need jobs in that area. There’s crime in that area and so anything we can do to help there, that’s what we want to do.
Priest: You said that one of your accomplishments within your first 100 days in office was establishing a public improvement district for Las Vegas Trail. Can you explain in simple terms what a public improvement district is?
Crain: It was a three-years-in-the-making public improvement district that started under former councilman Brian Byrd. He really started looking at Las Vegas Trail. It had been a forgotten part of Fort Worth. And when he started talking about it and visiting with other city leaders, they didn’t even realize that it had gotten as bad as it had. Las Vegas Trail in the 80s was really a great place. My aunt lived there. It was a lot of people from the base when it was still Carswell would go there with their families, and it was a great place to be. When Carswell (Air Force Base) was shut down in 1990 and before it reopened in ’91 or ’92 as a joint reserve base, what happened to a lot of those apartments is they obviously didn’t have the flow in as they did regularly from the military. They got sold to other people, foreign investors — and when I say foreign investors I mean people outside of Texas — and they have used them really as cash cows. They’re not really checking as people kind of float from one apartment to the next and a lot of drugs and crime came in there. We set up the community center that LVT Rise runs. IDEA Rise public charter school came in there and then another part was this PID. In a public improvement district, however you map it out, those properties are taxed. It’s another tax that’s put onto the properties. We carved single-family homes that are there out of the PID so the people that are paying the most are the people using the resources the most. It has 1% of the population but 4% of the crime overall in the city is in Las Vegas Trail, so it’s mostly the apartments paying into it. It’s roughly going to be about $300,000 a year. A big portion of that is security. … Beautification. A lot of that will probably go to trash abatement … and then some other programming at the community center…
Priest: Anything else I didn’t ask you that you think people should know is going on?
Crain: Right between Bomber Heights, there’s a railroad track that used to take people to GD (General Dynamics), Lockheed, etc. where all that is that was abandoned 20-25 years ago. We’re doing the research now and we have some partial funding from the COG (North Central Texas Council of Governments) and Streams and Valleys is involved to make that a trail system. It would actually connect the southern side and the northern side and create a 26-mile ring around Fort Worth. …
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com 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.