After months of meetings, the 16-member task force assigned to create design standards for a proposed development in the Fort Worth Stockyards hoped they were close to finishing the job.
But minutes into their scheduled 2-hour public meeting on July 22, members of the Historic Stockyards Design District Task Force realized they might not even meet their goal for the evening – discussing and voting on height restrictions for new buildings.
As consultant Randy Gideon began outlining the latest draft of the design ordinance the group hopes to recommend to the City Council next month, members of the audience, which grew to more than 100, began peppering Gideon, city staff and the task force with questions and complaints about the process.
“Let’s just finish the presentation before we have more interruptions,” said task force member Gary Brinkley, general manager of Stockyards Station and mayor of Saginaw.
As Gideon outlined proposed height restrictions for the 925-acre zoning overlay district that includes the Stockyards – from three stories near core historic areas to five stories in outlying areas and up to 10 stories in mixed-use developments – audience members vied with task force members to get more details.
Keith Kidwill, who was appointed to the task force in July to represent property owners on the west side of Main Street and Exchange Avenue, wanted buildings on the edges of the district to be exempt from height restrictions. Don Jury and other task force members want more buildings to be restricted to three stories to keep existing facilities from being dwarfed by taller buildings.
But the task force never got to a full discussion, much less a vote, on the height restrictions.
A few audience members questioned the need for another ordinance to regulate the proposed 1 million-square-foot, $175 million development that prompted the city to create the task force. But most speakers wanted more oversight of the California developer Majestic Realty, which has been granted tax incentives to develop 70 acres owned by its partner, Fort Worth’s Hickman family.
Many speakers said they distrusted Majestic vice president Craig Cavileer’s assurance during a previous meeting that the firm would preserve the historic character of the Stockyards.
Sarah Calhoun said the developers showed their disregard for Stockyards history by nearly discarding a cashier’s desk in the Livestock Exchange Building where her ancestors, the Saunders family, once auctioned cattle.
Josh Wheeler, who represented Majestic at the meeting, did not respond to Calhoun’s assertion, but he did reiterate that the firm wants to preserve Stockyards history. In an email, Cavileer said he does not want to comment further while the task force is completing its work.
But Brinkley, who works for the Hickman family, said the desk was given to the Stockyards Museum at the request of museum director Teresa Burleson, who noticed it while an office was being remodeled for Majestic’s Texas headquarters. Burleson confirmed that account.
The task force members, who represent various historical and preservation groups, continue to agree with residents who want them to recommend tougher standards to ensure that Majestic and other future developers cannot tear down or dramatically alter the mule barns, cattle chutes and other areas that residents say make the Stockyards authentic.
But they acknowledge that their instructions from the council do not allow them to create a historic district or take other measures that the preservation groups want.
“I believe what we’re doing is important,” said Bob Adams, who represents Historic Fort Worth on the task force. “But it has nothing to do with preservation. The council said they appointed people to preserve the Stockyards, but I don’t feel we’re doing that. We need to call for a resolution to create a local historic district.”
To do that, Jury said, residents need to take their desires to the council.
“This task force has no authority to preserve history,” he said.
In the meantime, task force members agreed at meeting’s end that they need to get back to what the council asked them to do – creat a design ordinance.
They hope to take up the height restrictions at a meeting July 29 at 3 p.m. at a location to be announced.
The task force will also hold meetings and public review sessions in August. Current plans call for the group to complete work in late August, two months past its initial deadline, and present its recommendation to the council.
Task force chairman Eric Hahnfeld acknowledged that the group might seek another extension to allow more time for public comment and task force deliberation.
But Brinkley hopes the group can complete its work on time.
“As mayor of Saginaw for 10 years, I’m used to public meetings,” he said. “I’m frustrated because the council asked me to do a job in a timely manner and I’m not. I’m hopeful at the next meeting we can go through the elements, vote on things we want to include, understand things we want to exclude, and direct additional research on things we still have questions about.
“Hopefully, the council will give us more time if we need it, but I remain hopeful that we’ll get recommendations to the council by the end of August.”