The Texaco at 5400 Brentwood Stair Road doesn’t pump gas anymore. Instead, one of its main exports is 911 calls.
The semi-defunct gas station has generated more than 200 calls to police since January 2020. Reports of assault and drug dealing are commonplace — and shootings and robberies have also have occurred.
In June, police responded to an assault call at the Texaco that involved possession of a dangerous drug and a DWI. The 5300 to 5500 blocks of Brentwood Stair Road butt up against residential properties in the Eastern Hills neighborhood. The commercial strip has become a dangerous entrance to the neighborhood, and a stumbling block for development.
Julie West, president of the Eastern Hills Neighborhood Association, moved to the neighborhood in the 1990s. She can remember when the strip was home to local businesses and tight community ties.
“That strip was incredible,” she said. “There was a beautiful Mexican pottery place with a little waterfall inside. It was really top of the line. And across the freeway was a really amazing Kroger …. But now it feels like some of the businesses could be fronts for other things. And so there’s not a lot of pride taken.”
West and the neighborhood association want to see the strip return to its commercial heyday and crime lessen — and the Texaco’s ownership agrees. Shamim Mohammad-Naem, whose family owns the gas station, said he’s no stranger to the dangers in the commercial strip. He recounted having a gun pulled on him by customers multiple times and facing consequences when he called police.
“I’ve left the store myself before, came to my car and a 12-year-old came with a gun pointed at my face and said, ‘Why do you keep calling the law on us?’” he said.
Mohammad-Naem said he has plans to improve the Texaco in the next five to six months, starting with offering gas again and hiring 24-hour security guards.
Right now, though, neighbors are fed up. Local law enforcement has considered state intervention to rectify the situation.
“It makes you have to think about creative solutions … outside of the box,” West said. “But really think about it that way of, you know, catching Al Capone on tax evasion instead [of other crimes.]”
‘This zoning change would be a dangerous precedent’
Scott Mills came before zoning commissioners July 12 with a simple request.
His bar, Corporate Image, is zoned to serve as a combination food and alcohol establishment. Corporate Image has been there for 50 years, he said, and he’s owned it for 26 of those. But serving food is a financial impossibility for the business, Mills said. To ease some of his costs and continue operating, he asked commissioners to approve a zoning change to the property that would let him sell alcohol exclusively.
“We have tried to sell food in the past,” Mills told commissioners. “Since it’s been there in the 70s, it’s never been able to support food sales. So, our only option is to change the zoning.”
Area residents spoke out against the proposed zoning change — but not because of anything Mills or his bar had done. Instead, they worried the zoning change could have negative ramifications for development around the bar.
Corporate Image, at 5418 Brentwood Stair Road, operates less than 300 feet from the gas station.
“I’m concerned that this zoning change would set a dangerous precedent,” West, who attended the meeting, told commissioners. “This Texaco … is a hotbed of crime, and daily and nightly shenanigans, all the time.”
Daniel Haase, vice president of the nearby Central Meadowbrook neighborhood, said he became aware of just how dangerous the Texaco was after submitting a public records request to the Fort Worth Police Department. His request was prompted by the accidental shooting of a child in the 5500 block of Brentwood Stair Road.
Data released by the police department and reviewed by the Fort Worth Report shows there were an average of one police call every two days in the 5300 to 5500 blocks of Brentwood Stair Road since January 2020 — and calls to the Texaco accounted for nearly 40% of those.
Mohammad-Naem said sometimes police will escort someone off of the Texaco property, only for them to return 10 minutes later. His family has considered shutting the gas station down.
“But for us, this was the bread maker from the beginning and we’re trying to, instead of getting rid of this, give it another shot and make it into an update,” he said. “Bring some new changes like all these other new gas stations opening.”
Haase said a negative perception of the area contributes to the problem. People don’t think anyone cares, so anything goes, he said.
“That’s the premise they’re operating on,” Haase said. “They’re in the same boat as the customers. They’re seeing this tired commercial strip and thinking, ‘Must just be a worn-out old neighborhood. Nobody cares.’”
Instead, West recommended that Mills get a conditional use permit for his business, which would allow him to operate as an alcohol-only bar without changing the underlying zoning designation.
“There have been no concerns with this particular business as far as I’m aware,” West said. “The Eastern Hills Neighborhood Association welcomes businesses that add value to the neighborhood.”
Mills said he’s amenable to getting a conditional use permit to ease neighborhood concerns. The permit would last three years, at which point it would come up for renewal.
“I would hope that within the future three years, that the area could improve,” Mills said. “I think if the city would help us a little bit… it’s more of a recurring problem, they come and clean ’em out, and then they come back, they clean out, they come back.”
Mohammad-Naem agreed. As a business owner, he said, you want an area to have good foot traffic. Cleaning up crime in the area by adding security, as he plans to do, is one way to improve that. He also said he’s been in talks with the property owner beside the Texaco about bringing in new, more attractive tenants to also enhance the area.
“We don’t have nice tenants here,” he said. “If we have nice tenants, we can lease this property for way more. So even we’re getting hurt, too, by what’s happening here. But I know safety is more important than us making money.”
‘Once that Texaco got those games, it was crazy’
Crystal Thomas has lived in the Eastern Hills neighborhood for 20 years. Her home sits near the Texaco, but she remembers a time when the gas station wasn’t the public nuisance it is now. Instead, it was just the neighborhood gas station, which she and her family walked past on a regular basis.
That was about 10 years ago. Things changed when gaming machines were installed in the Texaco, she said. A Fort Worth Report journalist visited the gas station on a Thursday afternoon, where the sole customer was sitting in front of one of four gaming machines in the back of the store.
“Once that Texaco got those games, it was crazy,” she said. “We noticed an uptick in activity there. Big crowds. And we just kind of started going a different way, because we had a little kid.”
Thomas is currently serving as secretary of the neighborhood association. She recalls hearing gunshots from inside her home and calling or texting the police, unsure of where exactly they came from. Usually, Thomas said, her assumption is the Texaco.
“The Texaco makes us nervous, I guess is the best way to describe it,” she said.
‘We have a responsibility’
Calls to police by Thomas and her neighbors — and the business that generates such calls — haven’t gone unnoticed. A spokesperson said the Fort Worth Police Department has considered initiating a nuisance abatement investigation into the property as a potential solution.
State statute allows local law enforcement to close properties involved in illegal activities for a year by suing the owners. To close the property, officials don’t have to prove that the owner of the property committed illegal acts themselves; instead, they just need to prove that the owner allowed illegal activity to happen on their property or failed to stop it.
Nuisance abatement investigations can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months, according to the police department. Fort Worth police have filed several other nuisance abatement cases this year, the department said in a written statement, resulting in successful outcomes.
A nuisance abatement investigation into west Fort Worth strip club Temptations Cabaret made headlines earlier this year, after four fatal shootings happened on the property in the past five years. The nuisance lawsuit filed against the strip club is ongoing; most recently, a judge ruled that, if the bar is allowed to reopen, it will do so with new security measures and reduced operating hours.
Both Thomas and West, the neighborhood association president, said they’d be happy to see the police department open a similar nuisance abatement investigation into the Texaco. While they aren’t sure what they’d like to see in its place, something like a green space would be welcome.
“We just want what’s best for all of east Fort Worth,” Thomas said. “And the business that Texaco brings is just not what’s best for east Fort Worth. Or any community, really.”
Mohammad-Naem said he’s cooperating with police to reduce crime at the Texaco. He’s offered them access to the business’ cameras, he said, and is open to the police department adding other surveillance measures.
“All we ask the police is, just please not to confront us in front of these guys,” he said. “Whenever they confront us, that’s where it becomes a danger and that’s where some of my guys get scared. They’re like, ‘Man, you know I’m getting paid $16, $17 an hour. I don’t think it’s worth my life to try to snitch on these guys.’”
For a long time, Haase said, Eastside residents were asleep at the wheel. As the older generation of residents that moved in in the 50s and 60s is replaced, he expects new eyes on the problem will be essential to turning business in the area around.
“But I think we, all of us, especially those of us who have been here a while, we have a responsibility to try to continue forward progress,” he said.
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