Fort Worth votes to block warehouse in southeast neighborhood. Developer may build anyway

Fort Worth City Council members Tuesday morning voted unanimously to rezone seven acres of industrial land in the city’s southeast for homes, rallying to the side of neighborhood advocates despite potential legal challenges from the property’s owner.

The City Council’s decision is the latest twist in a winding, months-long dispute over the patch of gravel in Village Creek, a residential neighborhood just north of Echo Heights. Residents had lobbied their representatives to reclassify the property for non-industrial use, shielding the neighborhood from the storage houses and truck yards sprawling across the eastern edges of the neighborhood. The lot’s owner, unwilling to abandon its vision for a trucking warehouse, may use state development regulations to move forward with the project.

“It was a heartbreaking day to see what had been a beautiful grassy knoll become a haven for trucks,” council member Gyna Bivens said of the property in her old district. “I am in support [of the zoning change], with this neighborhood.”

Residents across southeast Fort Worth have raised alarms about industrialization in their neighborhoods for years. Uprooted green space, polluted air, and damaged streets are, they say, only some of its adverse consequences.

The contested plot, owned by Dallas property investment firm Provident, hugs the northern side of U.S. 287, boxed in by single-family homes, a community center, a nursing home, and a sliver of truck depots. A small, centuries-old cemetery is wedged in between the fencing separating the site from the backyards to its west.

“The best thing about a ball dropping? You can pick it up,” Perry Williams, a Village Creek resident and former city water department employee, told council members in a rousing speech Tuesday. “Some of you council members weren’t even born when this occurred. Well, you’re here now.”

His wife Norma, born and raised in a home a stone’s throw away from the tract, approached the dais next, the final of five residents to comment.

“The last thing we need is more erosion,” she said. “Please, we ask you, make this change, and make it now for the safety and well-being of that portion of the city of Fort Worth.”

Concerted community activism compelled District 11 council member Jeanette Martinez to initiate the rezoning process in February. The city zoning commission unanimously supported the change twice. Efforts to find some middle ground between the developer and its new neighbors never progressed beyond informal discussions or public debates.

Soon after a standstill meeting with Village Creek residents in late February, Provident informed city staff of its intention to build a 54,000 square foot trucking warehouse on the land the city planned to rezone for low-density residences. Texas development regulations, they said, gave them the right to construct what the existing zoning allowed, in spite of any imminent change. Provident’s attorney described any effort to reclassify the property’s use as “unconstitutional.”

“Our client bought the property and paid a purchase price based upon those [industrial] entitlements,” the lawyer, Art Anderson, reiterated before council members Tuesday. “If the down-zoning occurs, the council should at least be aware that that is probably a regulatory taking of protected property.”

Provident’s appeals and warnings failed to convince city leaders.

“It’s out duty to protect the residents Fort Worth, that’s our job, whether it’s east Fort Worth, south Fort Worth, it doesn’t matter,” said council member Charlie Lauersdorf, shortly after confirming that Provident was based in Dallas.

Mayor Mattie Parker commended Martinez’s advocacy for her community, eliciting a small but impassioned round of applause from her constituents in the audience. She also noted city staff had begun exploring opportunities to purchase the property, an alternative to a lawsuit Provident has expressed openness to.

“We’ve got great partners here in the neighbors that have taken the time to come and speak so eloquently on this issue and the many more that will face us as we look to pick up that ball and do the right thing in the future,” Parker said.