Residents opposed to plans for an industrial facility across the street from a southeast Fort Worth elementary school got their wish Aug. 9, with City Council members voting to deny the proposal with prejudice.
The vote means Leon Capital Group, which sought to rezone the property on 5100 Parker Henderson Road from “agricultural” to “light industrial,” will have to wait at least a year before re-submitting an application. Zoning commissioners recommended the denial with prejudice in July after hearing from several residents concerned about road safety for children and parents and the impact of more air pollution on public health.
Fort Worth ISD also opposed the development because of the potential for increased traffic on the two-lane road across from W.M. Green Elementary School, which serves a student population that is 62.6% Hispanic and 29.1% African-American, according to the latest Texas Education Agency data.
Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, who represents east Fort Worth, told her constituents in Echo Heights that she would support other development options in the neighborhood, particularly more housing.
But Bivens said she could not support another logistics and trucking facility in an area where the Echo Heights and Stop Six Environmental Coalition has counted more than 180 industrial buildings in the vicinity of about 750 homes.
Bivens envisions a future for the area where industrial developers begin to leave the area not because they want to, but because the roads are in such poor condition due to truck traffic.
“I really think things are going to turn around, but until they do, you will not see me approving anything that adds more injury to the harm we already feel in this area,” Bivens said.
Property owner James Parker McCulley, 79, told council members that his family has overseen a 57-acre farm in southeast Fort Worth since around 1900. With his children no longer living in the area, McCulley said there is a limit to how much longer his family can maintain the farmland.
“From a family land ownership standpoint, this is a good time for it to be developed,” McCulley, a Cedar Hill resident, said. “It will bring jobs. It will bring tax money. And the tax money could hopefully help the Echo Heights neighborhood that has concerns about the infrastructure in their streets and their neighborhood.”
Chris Jones, who lives adjacent to the property on Parker Henderson Road with his family, said McCulley’s agricultural land creates a crucial buffer zone between the industry already present in the area and the residential neighborhood.
“The ratio of businesses to residents is almost overwhelming,” Jones said. “I don’t want to see more industrial businesses reducing air quality near my home.”
McCulley and attorney J. Ray Oujesky, who spoke on behalf of Leon Capital Group, took issue with one portion of the property being designated for “open space” in Fort Worth’s comprehensive plan.
That designation is problematic for a property owner being told that his land is valuable only for agricultural use or a city park, especially when the city has not shown interest in purchasing the land for that purpose, Oujesky said.
Oujesky sought to push back a council vote so Leon Capital Group could redesign its plans to build only in an area designated by city staff as an “industrial growth center,” but the council did not consider the move.
Before voting against the zoning change, Mayor Mattie Parker urged Bivens to meet with McCulley about how to develop the property in a way that makes sense for the southeast Fort Worth community. She acknowledged Oujesky’s frustration and urged city staff to take another look at acquiring additional open space in the neighborhood.
“If we say it’s needed, then we need to put our money where our mouth is,” Parker said. “I know there’s a lot of competing priorities, but I think that’s very important here to help achieve some of the goals that the neighborhood is asking for.”
For the neighbors and environmental activists who have spent the summer fighting Leon Capital Group’s proposal, the council vote was a big win, but the fight is not over, said John MacFarlane, the chairman of the Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club and a leader of the Environmental Justice Coalition of Fort Worth.
MacFarlane and other environmental activists working with Echo Heights residents are concerned that Fort Worth’s comprehensive plan still projects the future land use around W.M. Green Elementary to become more industrialized. Fort Worth reviews its comprehensive plan annually, a city spokesperson told the Report in March.
“Plan development does not require public involvement,” MacFarlane said. “The procedures surrounding the (comprehensive plan) development need to be reworked, so we will be advocating City Council to update plan development to require public involvement and comment and to take industrial uses out of the area, as Councilwoman Bivens indicated in her comments.”
Letitia Wilbourn, a leader of the Echo Heights environmental coalition, said she and her neighbors will ensure that the City Council follows through on its commitment to keep further industrial development out of Echo Heights.
“They said it on record, so now we got to hold them to it,” Wilbourn said after the vote. “I’m excited, and I hope that it’s a good step forward. I hope that when I told them (industrial pollution) was urban, environmental, domestic terrorism on Black and brown communities, I hope that they heard me.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.
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