Tarrant County

Tarrant County neighbors hope to halt fireworks with newly formed churches

NBC Universal, Inc.

Two years ago, when moving to Texas from California, Neil Foreman found the place he was looking for his family to call home among the back roads of unincorporated Tarrant County.

“It was a really nice area. It was green, a lot of trees, farmland, you know, nice neighbors,” said Foreman.

It was a peaceful space for him and his wife to raise their kids and rescued racehorse, Benji.

“We weren’t in paradise, you know. But we weren’t far off,” he said.

Just across Eden Road, Joe Sterling also saw opportunity.

“We’ve been here about six months,” said Sterling.

On an undeveloped lot just outside of Mansfield, Sterling opened a commercial truck lot.

Two months ago, he brought in a fireworks stand.

Saturday, he plans to open it as the third location of the Joe Dirt’s Fireworks business he’s run alongside his sons for six years.  

"The initial plan was to have a pay-to-pop here, and basically provide the people a safe, secure environment to shoot their fireworks off legally,” he said.

It’s something Sterling said doesn’t exist elsewhere in the county, even with a string of fireworks stands, including one of his locations, just a few short miles away.

He said he believed it would be welcomed in the community that’s a mix of both residential and commercial property.

With a big space, off-duty officers, water trucks, and experts on hand for fireworks novices, Sterling said it’s also a way to safely control an activity he believes will be happening all around them come the Fourth of July.

But for neighbors, the fireworks stand is just the latest grievance in a dispute they say began when Sterling moved into the neighborhood.

“We were all pretty concerned before because he put up a bunch of stadium lights and bulldozed what was a nice area,” said Foreman.

Looking to stop his plan, they turned to local leaders.

"We went to the county and they said, pretty much, there's not a lot they can do to help us,” he said.

Then, they found a loophole in the law.

While homes like Foreman’s may not have protection from fireworks, a house of worship would.

“You can't set fireworks off within 600 feet of a church,” said Foreman.

So with an online ordination and a small sign at the front of his property, Foreman opened the Church of Peace and Quiet.

Last week, a small group of neighbors gathered for a back porch worship service complete with scripture, prayer and discussion about keeping a fireworks business out of the neighborhood.

On the back side of Sterling's property and just a stone’s throw from the area he’d planned to soon clear for the pay-to-pop, another neighbor did the same, placing lawn chairs and a cross on their side of a shared fence.

While neither the state nor the federal government has strict definitions for what a church is, Sterling argues those that popped up to stop his business aren’t a fair challenge.

“I think it's blasphemy. I'm not overly religious, but I’m definitely a Christian and believe in God. I think that it’s not OK” said Sterling.

Meanwhile, Foreman argues it’s their only tool to protect peace and quiet for their families and pets.

"Is it worth it for a few bucks to terrorize the neighborhood?” he said.

With fireworks sales legally allowed to begin Saturday, Sterling said he’s undecided on how to proceed.

A hearing is scheduled next week after a Tarrant County judge granted a temporary restraining order at the request of some of the neighbors, reinforcing that Sterling abides by the 600-foot ban.

Contact Us