The City Council is moving forward on its promise made more than 15 months ago to protect the heritage and character of the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards in the wake of a $175 million redevelopment project there.
On Tuesday, council members will begin establishing a historic district and a new form-based code district for an area of the Stockyards, and will ask City Manager David Cooke to find the money in the budget to pay a consultant to shepherd the costly, and sometimes lengthy, process.
Typically, establishing either type of district is initiated by, and paid for, the property owners. This will be the first time the city has shouldered the costs, estimated to be as much as $300,000.
The council action comes two weeks after council members heard a staff presentation on the recently completed work to create a design overlay district for the Stockyards, which draws about 3 million visitors annually. The 16-member task force worked with a consultant team for several months to complete a 54-page document that addresses such things as architectural standards and guidelines, building setback rules and height guidelines.
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The two districts, combined with the design overlay district, “will be as close as we can to perfect” in protecting the Stockyards, Mayor Betsy Price said. If nothing is done, she said, “we’re going to get demolition by neglect.”
At a July 2014 council meeting, when voting to change the zoning classification of the area that incorporates the Stockyards and surrounding neighborhoods, council members vowed to also create a form-based code district.
Local governments nationwide has been shifting to so-called “form-based” zoning that puts the emphasis on what can be built and the types of buildings rather than specific land uses.
“This is an interim measure,” Councilman Sal Espino said at the time. “The ultimate objective is to develop form-based codes. That is going to happen.”
But not until the task force completed its work did the creation of form-based code for the Stockyards, or creating a historic district, get mentioned again. Historic preservationists were beginning to think the council was backpedaling on its promise.
When they carry this through, it will be beneficial to the whole area.
John Roberts, chairman of Historic Fort Worth
“I doubted them,” said John Roberts, chairman of Historic Fort Worth. But, he said, “When they carry this through, it will be beneficial to the whole area.”
Said Councilman Jungus Jordan, “We gave our word. The citizens are going to hold us accountable. Our credibility is at stake on this issue.”
The two districts are separate, but act in concert with each other. A historic district offers the best level of protection from demolition and helps to maintain an area’s integrity. If a demolition permit is sought, the application is reviewed by the city’s historic preservation officer and sometimes by the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission.
“It makes it challenging to demolish buildings that have not lost their physical integrity,” said Dana Burghdoff, the city’s assistant planning director.
If an illegal demolition occurs in a historic district, the owner faces hefty fines and is not allowed to develop the property for three years after that. A freeze on property taxes is often used as an incentive in historic districts to encourage property owners to protect their investments.
We gave our word. The citizens are going to hold us accountable. Our credibility is at stake on this issue.
Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan
Some interim controls over demolition and development resulting from a historic district will likely go into effect sometime in November for the Stockyards. The district will likely include East and West Exchange Avenue, and North and South Main Street at Exchange Avenue.
The city has 13 historic districts, most of which are residential-based, and more than 7,000 designated historic properties citywide, the most of any Texas city, Burghdoff said. Terrell Heights, Fairmount and Morningside are examples of historic districts. Dallas has 21 historic districts and about 4,100 historic properties, while San Antonio has 27 historic districts and about 4,600 historic properties.
Form-based codes are just that — regulations that guide how new buildings can look, and do not protect the integrity of existing historic buildings. Form-based codes are used along Camp Bowie Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue, for example.
A form-based code is ideal for redeveloping historic areas, said Joel Russell, executive director of the Form-Based Codes Institute in Chicago. The code, Russell said, can be “very clear about what kind of place you want to make. What comes out of it reflects the needs of all parties.”
It’s also a great tool to attract developers, he said, because it’s understood upfront what can be done.
Roberts said a form-based code can ensure high-quality construction and control what happens to property next to historic structures. Having both districts, he said, “is the best of all worlds.”
It could take up to a year to complete the process of establishing the form-based code district, Burghdoff said. It’s anticipated a consultant will be hired by the end of January, she said.
Also in January, the City Council plans to vote on the design overlay district, which in the meantime will be reviewed by the Zoning Commission and additional public hearings held.
The council also wants to retain the authority to review site plans filed for any Stockyards area development, which would go away with the adoption of the design overlay district. Instead, a site plan review would be handled by the nine-member Urban Design Commission. Under a proposed rule change, the commission would become a recommending body to the Zoning Commission and the council for Stockyards area projects.
The Planning and Development Department also is asking the council to approve spending $99,616 for salary and benefits to hire a senior planner to administer the consultant contract and Stockyards design and historic districts, and to address the pending design districts, form-based code districts and historic districts across Fort Worth.
In October, the Landmarks Commission gave the Fort Worth Heritage Development group, a partnership of Majestic Realty Group in California and Fort Worth’s Hickman family, approval to add windows and doors to the facade of the century-old horse and mule barns on Exchange Avenue in Stockyards.
Reactivating the barns is the first project in the planned multimillion-dollar redevelopment, which unleashed a firestorm last year from historic preservationists who raised concerns that not enough is being done to protect Stockyards property or its heritage.
In July, the developers unveiled a concept plan for their project that encompasses 70 acres and about 800,000 square feet of new space. Last year, the council approved development incentives for the project.
In June, the Stockyards was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2015 Most Endangered Historic Places list. It is also a nationally registered historic district, which means the historically-designated properties qualify for state and federal incentives.