A take-no-prisoner’s developer who was once dubbed the most dangerous man in Texas learned the hard way that Eastside folks are no pushovers.
Residents who live near Chesapeake Energy’s wastewater disposal site –– the only one of its kind in Fort Worth –– are tired of getting dumped on by the city. They’ve been the redheaded, buck-toothed, pimply stepchild for too long.
Their frustration culminated when developer Wallace Hall Jr. tried to plop a concrete recycling plant not far from the massive disposal well near East 1st Street, Oakland Boulevard, and I-30. Enraged residents relied on grassroots politics and online petitioning to kill the proposal, taking down the goliath Hall with ammo from a thousand slingshots.
In the late 1990s, Hall entered the controversial mitigation banking business. He inherited hundreds of acres of land along the Trinity River floodplain in Fort Worth and established protected wetlands that he can sell as credits to companies required to provide environmental mitigation. The federal government prohibited gas drilling on wetlands overseen by mitigation banks in 2008, but Hall’s operation was grandfathered since the drill sites already existed.
The group manages Trinity River wetlands and has infuriated environmentalists by allowing natural gas drilling in susceptible areas. Hall started serving on the University of Texas System Board of Regents in 2011 –– in 2013, state legislators sought to impeach him for behavior unbefitting a regent after he began submitting numerous open records requests while investigating university staff, including school president Bill Powers. Hall accused him of helping the children of influential people gain admission to the university.
Sleazeball to some, hero to others, Hall remains a UT regent and in 2014 was named Texan of the Year by The Dallas Morning News. Texas Monthly called him a “one-man wrecking crew” in its August 2014 issue under the headline “Is this the Most Dangerous Man in Texas?”
Hall intended to build a concrete recycling plant along East 1st Street, not far from the Chesapeake well site, Gateway Park, and the White Lake Hills neighborhood. Concrete recycling is a way to re-use the aggregate left behind after buildings and roads are demolished. Some consider reusing the rubble an environmental improvement over dumping the debris in landfills. But living near a recycling plant can be noisy and dusty while increasing truck traffic.
First, though, Hall needed a zoning change. Soon, he’d need more than that. Once word of his plans spread, he was facing a mob. More than 800 citizens signed an online petition against the zoning proposal.
The petition, created on May 17, reads, “We believe that the proposed use is incompatible with the environmental needs and future of the area, that it will hinder or negate the positive development that is being experienced in the area, and that approval of a zoning change as requested is against the will of the people of Fort Worth.”
Another 400 residents showed up to a neighborhood meeting to protest Hall when the developer was making a public presentation on his plans. Hall, the two-fisted guy who has squared off against university presidents, legislators, and fellow regents, backpedaled in the face of such staunch neighborhood criticism. He said he would no longer seek a zoning change, effectively killing the proposed plant.
City Council member Cary Moon tipped his hat to the vocal locals.
“I am delighted with the results of the public process,” Moon said. “The whole goal is to understand and represent the public sentiment in city hall.”
Hall was unavailable for comment at press time.
Moon disclosed the news in an e-mail sent to East Side resident Daniel Leaf, one of the plant’s leading critics.
“Through our discussion the developer came to understand the concrete recycling plant was not a good fit for our community and decided to discontinue their application for the zoning change,” Moon said. “The concrete recycling plant will not be built.”
Moon said he surveyed more than 1,500 citizens –– and 99 percent disapproved of the development.
“It’s our hope the property owner sees the community interest in this area and considers bringing in restaurants, markets, public facilities, and retail that better match the needs of our community,” Moon said.
The East Side has suffered its fill of hardship throughout the city’s history. The Trinity River runs east, and early city founders tended to put anything potentially problematic for water safety –– such as landfills –– on the east side of town. That way, any filth that made its way to the river would run away from the city. A mentality of dumping anything unwanted on the East Side has prevailed for more than a century –– and still does. Where do you think the city dumped its homeless population?
The plant was set to be constructed not far from a Montessori elementary school and adjacent to a Little League baseball field. The land also borders Gateway Park. Concrete plants emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and residents worried the pollution would harm the environment and further deteriorate the quality of life in East Fort Worth.
Residents who pit themselves against Big Business often face a tough fight against a team of corporate lawyers. Not this time.
An elated Leaf said Hall thought twice about squaring off against a reinvigorated East Side. Moon appreciates Hall for heeding the concerns.
“Thank you also to the property owner for hearing the community and taking it upon themselves to discontinue their zoning change request,” Moon said.
The zoning request will still be heard this week, but Moon believes the applicant will submit a letter to withdraw the application. Moon said he has spoken to Hall since the concrete deal was snuffed.
“As of now, a $10 million development is in the works,” Moon said “Nothing is official yet, but I believe it will positively impact East Fort Worth for multiple generations to come.”
We would share details about that potential development, but nothing is concrete yet.