Editorial: Confused? Don’t be – Stockyards project is good to go

Wasn’t there a famous politician – some guy named Kerry, maybe? – who voted for it before he voted against it? Tried and failed, it seemed, to defy the old saw that you can’t have it both ways.

But don’t tell that to the Fort Worth Zoning Commission, which voted July 9 to both approve and deny a package of temporary zoning changes designed to advance a controversial $175 million redevelopment project in the city’s historic Stockyards.

Commission Chairman Nick Genua, in a breathtaking example of understatement wrapped in head-scratching syntax, said he was “as conflicted about this case as any other case I’ve ever been conflicted with.” Genua voted to recommend approval of the zoning, although his vote was neither here nor there since the 4-3 margin in favor left the commission one vote short of the five required for a positive referral to the City Council. Bottom line: The commission had it both ways – four of the seven members in attendance voted to recommend approval by the council but the five-vote rule means the commission’s action goes to the council as a recommendation for denial.

“I think we need to get it in front of the people who can actually make a decision,” said commission member Wanda Conlin. We’ll second that – decision-making, at least where this issue is concerned, is clearly not the zoning commission’s forte.

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Conlin voted to approve the zoning, by the way – as if it mattered – as did Carlos Flores, the commission member who represents the North Side, including the Stockyards. Charles Edmonds provided the fourth yes vote while commissioners Gaye Reed, Will Northern and Namon Hollis Jr. voted no. Commission members Bob West and Melissa McDougall spared themselves the agony of indecision by not attending the meeting.

We’re singling out the zoning commissioners for ridicule – they asked for it, it seems to us – but they surely aren’t alone in their tendency to feel very strongly both ways, favoring a spectacular economic shot in the arm for the Stockyards but worrying about the depth of the developers’ commitment to preserving the cultural integrity of the neighborhood. Former city councilman and unofficial “mayor of the Stockyards” Steve Murrin is Exhibit A in this category, having spent much of his adult life promoting both economic development and historical preservation in the area that is synonymous with the craggy cowboy image he projects. Murrin has been saying, in effect, “Whoa, horse!” in the face of what he considers the city’s rush to approve the project.

We understand Murrin’s concern and we tip our Stetson to him for the professionalism and civility he has displayed in making his case. We understand his concern but we believe it is misplaced.

The involvement of the Holt Hickman family in the development – the Hickmans are partnering with nationally acclaimed Majestic Realty of California – is all we need to know about the developers’ commitment to preserving the Stockyards’ unique identity as a bastion of Western heritage and Fort Worth’s “Cowtown” brand. Although Holt Hickman’s son Brad is taking the lead on this project, the senior Hickman’s presence looms in the background – and no one should dare question Holt Hickman’s dedication to the Stockyards and its traditions. His history of financial and moral support for those traditions is beyond challenge.

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So, as we did when this development first went before the City Council last month, we urge Mayor Betsy Price and her colleagues to keep the ball rolling when they vote on the zoning changes during their July 15 meeting. As the zoning commission itself more or less conceded by its ambivalence, its recommendation – or non-recommendation, as the case may be – is irrelevant, or at least academic. The council should approve the temporary zoning overlay that will protect the Stockyards while the city develops a permanent set of “form-based codes” that will guarantee preservation of the area’s traditions.

The Hickman-Majestic plan will provide an immeasurable and much-needed economic boost to the Stockyards – a boost that will keep one of Fort Worth’s greatest treasures viable and faithful to its past for many years to come.