Residents of one pocket of unincorporated Tarrant County, about 15 minutes outside Fort Worth, had a problem: A new neighbor set up a fireworks stand on his truck lot.
There are loose zoning laws and limited fireworks regulations in unincorporated areas of the county, but there are a few legal protections, and neighbors – worried about their quality of life and stress on their pets – started looking for loopholes.
Abby Church, who covers Tarrant County for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said that without political representation in a city, residents went to the Tarrant County commissioners.
“A big band of them spoke during the public comment section,” Church said. “The commissioner who represents the area, her name is Alisa Simmons, she ended up calling a meeting with a couple of members of the county that includes the Fire Marshal’s office, the DA’s office, everything like that. And it was basically a meeting of the minds trying to figure out how we are going to get to a solution here.”
» GET MORE NEWS FROM AROUND THE STATE: Sign up for our weekly ‘Talk of Texas’ newsletter
One option was for residents to lobby state lawmakers in Austin, since a lot of unincorporated areas are governed by state laws. But the neighbors came up with another solution, Church said.
“The neighbors were looking through what is in the fireworks code and on the first line in the prohibited line, there is something that says that fireworks cannot be shot within 600 feet of a church,” she said. “So what the neighbors then did was pose a question, and they said, ‘do we have to build a church to protect ourselves?’ And there was someone in the meeting who laughed, but the neighbors were not joking.”
Two churches have gone up in the neighborhood since then.
“One of the guys in the neighborhood, he made Faith United Cowboy Church,” Church said. “What he told me is that he was trying to make a church for a pretty long time, and this was basically God’s timing – this whole thing just kind of happened and pushed him into making this decision. But the other church was more of a neighborhood effort, and it’s called the Church of Peace and Quiet, at another man’s house.”
Church said this works because in Texas – and federally – there is not a strict legal definition for what counts as a church.
“When you get into wanting to be exempt from taxes and getting 501(c)(3) status, there are rules that come with that,” she said. “But most of the definitions, whether that is with the state comptroller’s office or with the IRS, they focus more around the congregation rather than having an actual building.”
After the churches were established, the neighbors filed for a temporary restraining order against the truck lot owner.
“A judge signed off on that yesterday. And there are a bunch of very specific stipulations in there where the owner of the lot is not allowed to shoot off fireworks. They are not allowed to have trucks idle for a certain amount of time between certain periods of the day,” Church said. “So we are just waiting to see what happens with both parties. So I will say, though, it’s been very, very interesting. And I think that’s the big question to you is like what exactly is going to happen next?”