Is celebrated Fort Worth builder ruining Fairmount?
The work of a celebrated Fort Worth builder in Fairmount has angered longtime residents who fear the integrity of the historic district is at risk.
Martin Dahl, a Fairmount resident who previously served as the neighborhood’s preservation officer, said dozens of projects by 6th Ave Homes have conflicted with the historic guidelines that were established after the first wave of renovators saved the neighborhood in the late 1980s and 1990s. At least once in the last year the city demanded that work stop on a 6th Ave Home project for lack of permits, according to the Fort Worth preservation office.
“They’re not honoring the work that was done before them and the efforts that were taken before,” Dahl said. ‘They’re ignoring that and doing whatever they want.”
6th Ave Homes, a real estate and design company, got its start flipping homes in the neighborhood characterized by turn-of-the-century houses. Co-founder Jamey Ice said complaints from longtime residents about remodels of old homes have largely been misunderstandings as a new generation has fallen in love with the vibrant neighborhood’s mix of Craftsman bungalows, Victorian homes, Tudor revivals and Prairie-style homes, all within walking distance of the shops and bars on Magnolia Avenue.
“I think the real challenge is you have some folks who have been in the neighborhood for a long time, they’re the real pioneers here,” Ice said. “Now there’s a group of millennials that have bought some homes, and it’s ruffled some feathers. I’ve never said out of my mouth I saved Fairmount, but I think we’ve been one part of it.”
Ice, a guitarist in the country rock band Green River Ordinance, started renovating homes in 2014 with his longtime friend Jimmy Williams, a Fort Worth police detective. They’ve bought more than 40 homes in the neighborhood, sometimes putting them at odds with residents who take to the 6th Ave Homes social media accounts to voice their opinions. But Ice said the company has been willing to work with the neighborhood and city regarding the historic nature of the homes they buy and sell.
Fairmount is one of the nation’s largest historic districts and has been on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1990. The historic homes, with proper renovation, are eligible for a historic site tax exemption from the city that freezes the property value at its per-remodel assessment for 10 years. The neighborhood’s West Magnolia Avenue was added last year to the list of “Great Streets in America,” part of an updated list of “Great Places in America” from the Washington, D.C.-based American Planning Association.
“We love this neighborhood,” said Ice, who bought a home there in 2011. “We’ve made some mistakes, but we’re trying to improve the neighborhood.”
The tipping point for some neighbors angered by their work came in February when 6th Ave Homes was honored as Small Business of the Year by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.
The accolade prompted Susan Harper, a longtime resident and former preservation director for Fairmount, to write the Chamber a letter claiming 6th Ave Homes violated historic guidelines “a record number of times for any one individual” and asserting the company doesn’t qualify as one of the “bevy of residents” who have worked to restore the community since the 1990s.
“We’ve offered to help them,” Harper said. “They’ve always been kind and courteous but they’ve never gotten back to us.”
Ice said Fairmount is only one part of the company’s overall business, which extends across the city. Through 6th Ave Homes, clients can sell their house, buy a new one and design the remodel. Being the “one-stop shop” for home needs earned them the award, he said, not Fairmount construction.
“We we went through an extensive application and screening process,” Ice said. “I would argue that the vast majority of people in the neighborhood love what we do.”
One of those people is Trey McGhin, who lives in a home renovated by 6th Ave Homes in the 1900 block of Sixth Avenue. 6th Ave Homes often feature modern interiors with open floor plans. While that’s not historic, it’s also not against the neighborhood’s guidelines, and that may confuse people, McGhin said.
Though some in the neighborhood have complained about funky paint jobs, like a black home with pink accents, McGhin said he believed the company has historical integrity in mind.
“I think they’ve really added positivity to the neighborhood,” he said.
Dahl said the concern goes beyond praise for 6th Ave Homes and is rooted in a worry that the neighborhood will be lost to redevelopment. The historic district guidelines were applied in 1991 after Dahl and other residents began the neighborhood’s renaissance, but they only work if builders take them seriously, he said.
Those guidelines specify exterior aesthetics such as the style of windows and doors and the material for porch flooring, siding and pillars, among other things. They don’t pertain to a home’s interior or the color of the house with the exception of neon and florescent colors.
While the items may seem minor, Dahl said they’re important to the feel of the neighborhood. They’re important for receiving the historic tax credit, but were also crucial to establishing the neighborhood as a nationally recognized historic place.
“We’re trying to preserve the original character whether it’s a column style or the windows or the masonry work,” he said. “Those are the things unique to Fairmount.”
Dahl, who now serves on the board of Historic Fort Worth Inc., said 6th Ave Homes has established a pattern of skirting the historic guidelines.
He and neighbors compiled a list from 2014 to 2016 of more than a dozen homes where exterior work was done that they said conflicted with the guidelines. City records from 2018 show at least one citation and one stop-work order for 6th Ave Homes projects.
One home lacked a certificate qualifying its work within the historic guidelines, another had iron rails replaced with tapered columns and a few had brick or other siding features removed.
When presented with a list of homes neighbors were concerned about, Ice said 6th Ave Homes had completed the permitting process and received certificates of appropriateness for most properties. The certificate signals that the work follows the historic guidelines. He was only aware of violations at three homes.
According to the city’s records, more than 20 certificates are on file for work on at least seven homes between September 2017 and April of 2018.
But mistakes have been made, Ice said.
Ice received a citation for work at a home in the 1800 block of South Adams in November because they painted over exterior brick and replaced the front door and part of the front porch against city ordinance. Ice said the brick paint job was a mistake and he was able to work with the city to fix the other issues.
In October, the city ordered work to be stopped at a home on Alston Avenue because the company didn’t have the correct permits, city records show.
In some cases, Ice said, contractors did poor work resulting in conflicts with the guidelines or city permits. He said the company has lost money on some Fairmount homes because a contractor made mistakes or the work was more extensive than they first thought.
He pointed to two homes recently renovated on South Adams. One, a multifamily home Ice described as a “problem house,” resulted in a loss of about $60,000. The other home put them in the hole about $30,000, he said.
“We’ve had some great contractors, but we’ve had some that were really bad, and we had to go back and fix things,” he said, adding that 6th Ave Homes recently hired new employees to do their work.
Dahl and others have said they’d like to meet with 6th Ave Homes about their concerns. Ice and his businesses partner Jimmy Williams said they’re willing to discuss the neighborhood’s future. Both sides say the other has been unwilling to meet.
“We have asked to meet to listen what their frustrations or complaints may be,” Williams said. “We are not opposed to receiving constructive criticism and want to get better. Making mistakes is a part of growth. Unfortunately, no one has ever taken us up on this offer.”