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Roanoke Forces Fireworks Business To Close

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jason Allen
Jason came to North Texas after working as a reporter for four y...
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ROANOKE (CBSDFW.COM) - Less than two months before the Fourth of July, one of the largest fireworks stores in North Texas is packing up.

Nelson’s Fireworks doesn’t plan to open its 12,000 square foot store on Hwy 114 in Roanoke, after the city refused to extend an agreement that has kept the business operating for the last four years.

In an interview and staff memo, the city manager said the family-owned business doesn’t fit into plans for future growth and development in the area. The city fire chief also cited safety concerns, and the city mayor said the explosion in West was in the back of his mind during the decision.

Randy Nelson was alone in the store Wednesday, packing boxes of sparklers, fountains and firecrackers to send to the family’s two other stores in Rockwall and Caddo Mills. He was a bit nostalgic about it.

His father and uncle built the store in 2002. It grew from a hobby on their farm, and a roadside stand, into a full-fledged business. They knew when the city of Roanoke annexed their land in 2008 that the day might come when the store might face opposition. He called what happened though, a “punch in the gut.”

Because Roanoke city code doesn’t allow the use or sale of fireworks, Nelson’s stayed open under an agreement signed in 2008, and extended in 2010. The six page deal says it would give the Nelson’s time to recoup their investment in the property. The last agreement expired after July 4, 2012, and the family pursued meetings to get another one.

“We were told hey, put together a packet, the benefits to the city and the downsides to shutting it down,” he said.

A new deal didn’t come in time for the season around New Year’s Eve though, forcing a closure. Then after securing time to speak to the city council about the issue April 23, the family ran into an unexpected issue. A few items before their time to speak, the council passed a new version of the international fire code, which doesn’t allow fireworks. They did not include any amendments, like the kind they used in the past to work with the Nelsons.

“It certainly seems like a pretty big coincidence if it was,” Nelson said.

Fire Chief Mike Duncan said it was indeed a coincidence, and he would have waited on the issue if he had realized how it could affect the Nelson’s case. Duncan however, did not back down from the safety hazards he believes the sale of fireworks creates, saying his department responds to as many as 8 fires a year believed to be cause by fireworks.

Mayor Scooter Gierisch said safety and future planning were equally concerning to keeping the business operating. The council discussion happened just days after the explosion in West, something he said was on people’s minds, and had to be considered. The deciding factor though he said, was fireworks are against city ordinance. The city was more than generous he said in giving the family four years of agreements to make other plans.

City Council member Dion Jones was the only council member to say he’s willing to look for a way to keep the business in town.

“You’re taking a product that goes hand in hand with liberty, and taking it away from an individual to utilize,” he said.

The Nelson’s have offered to make improvements on the building façade, install sprinkler systems and improve the gravel parking lot. Last year they say they paid more than $8,000 in property and sales taxes to the city.

Randy Nelson, who said the Roanoke location accounted for nearly 50-percent of their business, said he’s looking at the possibilities of making the use a ballot issue. Voter, he believes, might be on the families side.

“Just shutting it down, it just doesn’t seem like something that would happen in America,” he said. “Much less Texas.”