Get ready, Fort Worth City Council.
A confused and misdirected council-appointed task force has voted 10-5 (with one member absent who would have voted with the minority) to forward design standards and guidelines for how the city “saves” Fort Worth’s historic Stockyards.
Repetitive months of discussion and head-scratching on the part of task force members have culminated with many of them still grappling with how “guidelines” preserve the area.
Guidelines are merely the city’s way of suggesting how a developer might keep the internationally acclaimed historic resource “authentic.”
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As a lifelong Fort Worth resident who now works on Exchange Avenue, I have great respect for Steve Murrin, Holt Hickman, Sue McCafferty, Bob McLean and others who over the years have invested greatly in Stockyards preservation. But their decades of work are not done, and we are on the verge of serious changes.
On July 15, 2014, when the City Council granted the Hickman/Majestic Realty partnership a $67 million tax grant through a 380 Development Agreement to proceed with its redevelopment projects, a crucial motion by Councilman Sal Espino mandated that a strict, form-based zoning code be created for the Stockyards. The motion carried.
Now, 14 months later, a form-based code has not been created or even started. Let’s not forget this key concept in the Stockyards redevelopment discussion. What is a form-based code, and what does it accomplish? It would ensure the separation of incompatible uses and place limitations on inappropriate actions that would erode our unique sense of place.
Majestic Realty has verbally assured everyone involved that they will respect historic authenticity throughout the process. But why not put enforceable regulations in place to protect the Stockyards, should Majestic not be the developer in control at some point?
There are questions regarding what entity is responsible for funding the creation of the form-based code. Might it be fair that the city, granting a $67 million tax break to a private developer, be the appropriate party to pay?
Or, perhaps it should be the developer who is receiving such a generous public gift?
Regardless of who pays, the council mandated that a form-based code be written.
We should be mindful the National Trust for Historic Preservation has warned us the Stockyards area is threatened by plans to implement a nearly 1-million-square-foot, $175 million redevelopment project. Unfortunately, the trust cannot enforce anything for us.
We must look to city officials to initiate a historic overlay that will protect the authenticity of the Stockyards.
It may also be a point of interest that the city’s own historic preservation officer has had no solicited input on the matter. If the City Council is truly committed to preservation, this may be an individual who should be involved.
The Historic Stockyards Design District Task Force is a combination of Stockyards property owners, executives of Majestic Realty and representatives of historic preservation groups.
Unfortunately, the task force seems to have been commandeered by those wanting no enforceable standards. It’s a tug of war between preservation and development that is destined to continue unless we who care about authenticity speak out.
If a handshake and a verbal promise could enforce building heights and explain how over 800,000 square feet of proposed office space, apartments and parking garages will increase tourism and preserve the Fort Worth Stockyards, everything would be buttoned up quite nicely.
Until a form-based code is created and enforced, we’ll continue to observe unraveling at the seams.
We either look to the City Council to enforce the form-based code that was originally mandated, or the Stockyards history is history.
Diana Bloxom manages Maverick Fine Western Wear in the Fort Worth Stockyards.