Together They Win
Eastside neighbors locked arms last year to deal with crises in common.
By RITA VINSON
When Fort Worth Weekly’s Best of 2008 issue came out on Sept. 28, I was surprised to find that the Brentwood-Oak Hills Neighborhood Association, of which I am current president, had been named the Critic’s Choice as the Best Neighborhood Group. Our modest middle-class neighborhood is not so well known as the more affluent Ryan Place, which earned the Readers’ Choice recognition.
So this is my thank-you to the Weekly for the honor. And as usual with acceptance speeches, I have others to thank: We couldn’t have done what we did without the help of other neighborhoods.
The past year has been the most challenging I’ve seen in my 12 years of dealing with local issues, as I think it was for most neighborhoods. But taking on tough jobs has brought the residents of the Brentwood-Oak Hills area together and also brought a close working relationship with several other neighborhood groups.
I give half the credit to Eastern Hills Homeowners Association and its president Louis McBee. It all started with a developer’s application to subdivide one large, tree-covered homesite on Oak Hill Road for 18 homes. If approved, it would have hurt not only my neighborhood but also Eastern Hills. Our two associations worked side by side with neighbors and city officials to try to protect our area, a fight documented by Betty Brink in the Weekly on Aug. 1, 2007. Meanwhile, both associations undertook extensive rezoning of other large parcels so this problem could not be repeated. The owner of the Villa Estate land, a twice-convicted felon currently serving time for defrauding HUD, has not developed the property yet, but he still could.
By September 2007 the Brentwood-Oak Hills area was under assault by Paloma Resources and its leasing agents seeking a high-impact gas well permit (for 12 wellheads) behind the New Beginnings International Church. They really wanted this permit because the land is adjacent to a TXU pipeline. Landmen tried to bribe and coerce residents into signing waivers, but fortunately there were some strong holdouts. Men from my group and Eastern Hills, passing out cautionary fliers at a Paloma gas-lease signing party, were told by police to leave or be arrested. Our Fort Worth City Council member Danny Scarth said the New Beginnings site would have affected an unprecedented number of properties within the 600-foot setback provided by city ordinance – 45 single-family lots and 16 buildings of an apartment complex. Ryanwood, Eastern Hills, Central Meadowbrook, and West Meadowbrook all came to our defense, so Paloma did not apply for the permit. In March 2008 Chesapeake Energy acquired the property from Paloma, and we don’ know whether it will restart the permit effort.
In August 2007 four Eastside neighborhoods (and later a fifth) formed the Greater Meadowbrook Gas Leasing Task Force to study gas drilling and to come up with a lease to recommend to property owners. Nothing in our experience had prepared us for a task of this complexity. Fortunately, other neighborhoods had gone before and generously shared copies of leases they had negotiated. Louis and I and the other three association presidents – Harvey Roberts of Central Meadowbrook, Don Boren of West Meadowbrook, and Jerry Webb of Chimney Wood – met biweekly for eight months and heard from other neighborhood leaders and experts. Louis chaired the task force and did the majority of the work on the draft lease; I was co-chair. In January we sent out our draft lease and began high-stakes negotiations with the gas companies that responded. If our property owners had signed leases in November 2007 with Paloma, they would have gotten $7,000 per acre signing bonus (and a free turkey) and 25 per cent royalty. Instead, in April, they got $25,000 per acre and 26.5 per cent royalty from XTO (the highest on record in the Barnett Shale at that point). More importantly, they got many environmental, safety, and legal protections they would never have gotten in an individual lease. (Of course, on Saturday we learned that XTO is not signing any more leases at the Meadowbrook lease terms, because of the gas price situation.)
Our battles are not all won. Villa Estate could still be developed. Chesapeake might try for a permit for the New Beginnings site. And while we have protections on where XTO can and cannot drill in our area, that doesn’t control what Chesapeake may do. But we are grateful for the friendships and close relationships we have forged with folks in Meadowbrook – including groups from Near East Side, Handley, White Lake Hills, and Woodhaven. Whether we are working on the neighborhood policing district, urban villages, homeless issues, neighborhood zoning, or code enforcement, on saving our beautiful trees or salvaging some quality of life from the industrial sites of gas drilling, we’re in it together. That’s what I love about living in the diverse community of East Fort Worth.