Historic Fort Worth sues to stop demolition of Dillow House

Posted Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Historic Fort Worth is suing the city of Fort Worth over removing the historic designation on the Dillow House on Rosedale Street, a vote that ultimately gave Texas Wesleyan University the right to demolish the 100-year-old structure, one of the oldest on the city's east side.

The nonprofit organization, which works to preserve Fort Worth's historic structures, contends in the lawsuit that the city violated its own historic preservation ordinance when staff allowed Wesleyan to pursue its request through a zoning change and not through the Appeals Board.

Historic Fort Worth wants the historic designation reinstated on the property and demolition of the building at 3216 E. Rosedale St. blocked, according to the suit filed Friday in state district court in Tarrant County. A hearing has not been scheduled.

Wesleyan said it wants to raze the building because it's in the path of a campus expansion. The building received the historic designation in 1990.

"The city of Fort Worth has an excellent preservation ordinance, one many cities would love to have," John Roberts, chairman of Historic Fort Worth, said Monday. "The suit will determine if the ordinance was upheld."

City spokesman Bill Begley said the city will not comment on pending litigation.

Last August, the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission denied Wesleyan's request to demolish the building, ruling that the school did not show that the property had lost its historic significance or that the school would suffer an economic hardship by renovating the 1912 home.

Wesleyan filed to have the case heard before the Appeals Board in November, but then changed its strategy and asked the Zoning Commission to remove the historic designation.

The commission approved the university's request in January and sent it on for City Council approval Feb. 5. The council voted 6-2 to allow the historic designation to be removed. Wesleyan has not yet filed for a demolition permit.

The lawsuit said the city's historic preservation ordinance has no provision for action by the Zoning Commission or the City Council, and as a result, would "null and void" the votes of those boards on the university's request.

The suit marks the first time Historic Fort Worth has challenged the city's historic preservation ordinance.

Since the Feb. 5 council vote, Councilman Joel Burns has asked city staff to add back language "inadvertently omitted" when the ordinance was updated in 2007 that would require a separate vote from the Landmarks Commission regarding a request to have a historic designation removed. Also, city staff proposes adding language in the ordinance that would require signatures from at least 50 percent of the property owners in a historic district before a historic designation in the district could be removed.

Public hearings on proposed changes must be held by the Landmarks and Zoning commissions, and the City Council.

The prairie-style Dillow House, near Vaughn Boulevard, was built by Samuel Dillow, a grocer and banker who lived in the two-story home until he died in 1931. His daughter, Audrey Dillow, graduated from Wesleyan and donated the house to the university in 1979. She lived there until her death in 1982.

The school used it as its alumni headquarters and a meeting place until 2007. It has been vacant since then and has deteriorated after two fires.

Wesleyan plans to develop a new office building for the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church on its campus and wants the land where the house stands for a new campus entryway.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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