February 5, 2013

Fort Worth council OKs Wesleyan plan to raze historic Dillow House

The City Council voted Tuesday night to approve Texas Wesleyan University's request to remove the historic designation from the old Dillow House, which will allow the university to raze the dilapidated building.

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FORT WORTH -- The City Council voted Tuesday night to approve Texas Wesleyan University's request to remove the historic designation from the old Dillow House, which will allow the university to raze the dilapidated building.

The vote was 6-2, with Joel Burns and Frank Moss voting no. Councilman Dennis Shingleton abstained, saying he supported the request but should not vote because his son is the university's basketball coach.

Several neighborhood and historic preservation leaders spoke against the request, saying it sets a bad precedent.

"We are dismayed by the process being used to remove the historic designation on the Dillow House," said Jerre Tracy, executive director of Historic Fort Worth.

Wesleyan President Fred Slabach told the council that the university is committed to preserving its historic buildings but that the Dillow House "simply is not feasible to repair."

Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, who represents the Polytechnic area, where Wesleyan has been an anchor since its founding in 1890, moved to approve the university's request, noting that Wesleyan's development plans are crucial to revitalizing the neighborhood.

"Our goal is always to preserve history," she said. "We always lean to the experts in this area, but sometimes in reality, history and progress collide, and I think this is one of those times."

Burns, who represents the near south side, called on the council to commit to tightening the city's historic preservation ordinance.

The prairie-style house, near East Rosedale Street and Vaughn Boulevard, was built by Samuel Dillow, a grocer and banker who lived in the two-story, 3,500-square-foot 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 house received a historic designation in 1990, and the school used it as its alumni headquarters and a meeting place until 2007. It has been vacant since then and deteriorated after two fires.

Last summer, the city's Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission rejected the school's request for permission to demolish the house. University officials then asked the Zoning Commission to remove the historic designation, winning that vote in January and pushing the case before the council.

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.

About 25 employees from the conference office on the city's near west side will move to the new 15,000-square-foot building at Wesleyan.

Developer fees raised

The council raised transportation impact fees on new development that will help the city pay for arterial roads, but by less than staff members proposed.

The fee on a new single-family home will rise to $3,000 from $2,000, an increase supported by development and business groups.

Under the staff proposal, the impact fee, paid before permits are issued, would have increased to $3,680 on a single-family home.

Mayor Betsy Price and council members said they were reluctant to raise fees any higher, considering that the housing industry is in the early stages of recovery. Councilman Danny Scarth, however, proposed that the council revisit the fees in a few years.

The North Fort Worth Alliance, an umbrella group of 22 homeowner organizations, reiterated its support Tuesday night for raising fees higher than the staff proposal to bring badly needed infrastructure to the fast-growing area.

Current fees pay for 1.1 miles of arterial roads, the city staff has said. The fee increase approved Tuesday will pay for 1.5 miles. The staff's proposal would have paid for 1.8 miles.

At the city's current growth rate, nearly six miles of new arterial roads are needed each year to serve new developments, staff members estimated.

The increase takes effect April 1. Developments that are already platted will be grandfathered in for two years at the current fees. The council also increased the discount for development in areas with adequate infrastructure.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808

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