Developers tried and failed a second time to rezone the former home of a COVID-19 testing site off of Hemphill Street. Fort Worth City Council members denied the latest request unanimously at their Oct. 17 meeting.
The owners, Martin Quezada Vela and Juana Valdez Guzman, planned to open a car lot on the site and requested changing the zoning from neighborhood commercial to general commercial restricted.
Two residents spoke in favor of the zoning change and two others spoke against it.
Council member Jeanette Martinez, who represents District 11, said she would like to see a development that serves the community built on the lot. She imagines a coffee shop or office space.
“There’s a vision to build Hemphill up, and this feels like a step back,” Martinez said before motioning to deny the change with prejudice, meaning the applicant has to wait a year to request another zoning change.
Both Angela Blochowicz, president of the Jennings-May St. Louis neighborhood association, and Loretta Snoke-Huezo spoke in favor of the change. The owners live and raise their kids in the neighborhood, they told council members.
“They’re living in the community. It’s much better than a developer from New York or California coming in to build this huge development and then they’re out,” Snoke-Huezo said.
This was their first time navigating the zoning process, Quezada Vela said.
The pair plan to lease the property before attempting to change the zoning again.
“I have to get (more community members). I have to encourage and bring them here so there will be more voices that support us,” Quezada Vela said.
Fernando Florez and Vicki Bargas spoke against the project. Florez, who has lived off Hemphill Street for 40 years, said residents previously worked to limit development of car lots and bars. There are at least 12 car lots on Hemphill between Morningside Drive and Seminary Drive, Martinez said.
“We’re not in favor of turning the clock back (on) tens of thousands of hours of volunteer work,” Florez said.
The neighborhood previously opposed a plan to build 24 townhomes on the same site in January. That effort also failed, but, in 2021, City Council approved an affordable housing project on a different site near Hemphill, despite neighborhood opposition.
Snoke-Huezo said the city is sending mixed messages to Southside residents by approving projects that completed little community outreach.
“In this case, we have a developer who has done more than enough when it comes to community engagement that they have community support and they still voted to deny it,” Snoke-Huezo said. “So what is it that they want from us?”
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. Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.