Dozens of Tejas Trails residents crowded into a small conference room inside of Solid Rock Baptist Church on Tuesday afternoon, intent on one thing: getting answers.
One neighbor quipped that the group should have reserved a bigger room, as more and more residents filed in. Binders filled with information about the proposed development rested on two white folding tables at the center of the room.
Neighbors have sent hundreds of emails to city staff since February on how best to oppose the intrusion of a church and daycare into their historic neighborhood. Now, as permit applications for Chapel Creek Church’s planned development proceed, those same staff are readying neighbors for a transition of power.
District 3 council member Michael Crain’s office has been actively involved in helping neighbors understand the rules and regulations around the construction. After May, though, the neighborhood will no longer be his to represent.
Redistricting in 2022 placed Tejas Trails in District 7, rather than its former District 3 home. That means after the May 6 election, residents will have an entirely new council member.
“That’s the frustrating part of having such an active neighborhood,” District 3 Liaison Jack Carvalho told those gathered at the meeting. “Redistricting means suddenly District 7 gets it.”
The District 7 incumbent, Leonard Firestone, is not running for reelection. As a result, whoever represents Tejas Trails next — Caleb Backholm, Jason Ellis or Macy Hill — will be a first-time council member.
Carvalho told neighbors that he is gathering all of the information sent to him about the proposed development in a central place to ease the transition.
“We have no idea who is going to win the election,” he said. “We put all the notes we have in a packet to give to the new council member.”
District 7 candidates lay out their views on Chapel Creek
After the meeting with city staff ended Tuesday, residents had an hour break before heading back to Solid Rock Baptist to hear from District 7 candidates. Multiple people brought up the church’s development and pressed for answers on how the candidates would protect the Tejas Trails neighborhood.
Hill, the fundraising frontrunner in the race, cited an article by the Fort Worth Report outlining resident concerns. While Texas is a state with strict property rights, it’s important for council members to be strong advocates for their constituents, and she would make sure that all city rules are followed in any development, she said. Hill has spoken at length with Crain and city staff about the church development and neighborhood apprehension, she said.
“I will be an advocate and I will be a fighter for our neighbors and our neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s important because we have chosen to raise our families here, to live here and retire here. And we want to make sure that quality of life is maintained.”
To ensure the best response to problems like this, she said, City Council members also need to hold city employees accountable.
“We need to make sure city staff and legal (staff) are working together,” she said. “…I think it’s important to have someone that’s not only going to advocate for you, but also dig deep into City Hall and figure out what department needs to talk to who to get that done.”
For Ellis, if elected, he will be incredibly responsive to resident concerns over development — and if he’s not, residents should vote him out. He pointed out that his cell phone number is on his campaign website, a move that he said his campaign manager wasn’t a big fan of. He did it anyway, he said, to be transparent with residents.
“You need someone willing to stand up there and work for you,” he said. “If a church is going in, let’s talk to the neighborhood. If there’s anything I can do, I’m gonna stand up in the City Council and fight.”
Ellis wouldn’t sit and pretend he knows everything there is to know about District 7, or specific neighborhood concerns, he said. He would take the time to listen, even if there’s discontent on a smaller scale.
“Your voice is heard by numbers,” he said. “If you want to go as an HOA and say, ‘We don’t want this,’ they’ll listen to you. But it’s always the individual person that comes up that they won’t even listen to. And that’s frustrating.”
Backholm is not sure what side of the church issue he would come down on yet, he said. He acknowledged that his answer might not be the most popular among candidates, but he felt it was important to be honest.
“Sometimes there’s just an issue that you lose on,” he said. “It can be difficult because you have so many people in a community who want so many different things.”
He cited a median that was installed near his own neighborhood, and the conflicting opinions on whether it was a good addition to the area. Backholm thinks it’s a negative, but several residents he’s spoken with love it. A strength of his, he said, is being able to have conversations with people he disagrees with.
“I have a track record of standing up for what I believe in,” he said. “…I am firm on what I believe when it comes to the issues that matter to me. And I moved here on purpose, because Fort Worth is different from so many other big cities around the country, and I want it to stay different.”
Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.
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