Changes are coming to the rules that govern building design in downtown Fort Worth.
The Fort Worth City Council approved amendments to the Downtown Urban Design District’s standards and guidelines on June 14. The vote was 8-0, as Councilmember Sal Espino was traveling in China with Fort Worth Sister Cities.
Any new construction that falls within the Downtown Urban Design District’s boundaries will be required to follow rules that govern design elements like building height, sidewalk width and signage. One of the new rules requires buildings in certain areas of downtown to have a three-story height minimum, unless the developer applies for an exemption.
Existing buildings will not be affected by the revised rules.
The boundary of the district remains in question, however, as the proposed expansion was met with some opposition during the council meeting.
The city council planned to vote on expanding the boundary to include more of the northeast edge of downtown – that is, the area east of the Intermodal Transportation Center up to Interstate 35, then north up to the Greenway, Rock Island and Samuels Avenue neighborhoods. The area would have joined the existing district, which roughly stretches west toward Forest Park Boulevard and south toward Interstate 30.
However, Tony Williams, a representative of Penske Truck Leasing at 501 North Freeway, told the city council that he’d like his business to be excluded from the district.
The district guidelines state that if a building goes through a renovation equal to at least 20 percent of the square footage of the existing facility, the renovation must be approved by the city’s Downtown Design Review Board.
Williams said that the “20 percent” requirement, along with the district’s requirements to add trees and sidewalks, would create safety issues and hinder growth of his company.
The city council then decided to delay the case for another week to allow Penske and the city to discuss how the company will be affected by the design rules.
The city has spent about two years working with downtown advocacy group Downtown Fort Worth, Inc., and area neighborhood associations to revise the Downtown Urban Design District.
The decision to expand was partly due to an increase in interest for development in the Samuels Avenue corridor, DFWI President Andy Taft said.
“If there’s anything that frustrates developers, it’s a lack of clarity,” Taft said. “We’re trying to ensure that high quality development occurs in downtown, and we’re trying to make it easy for the developers to understand what the vision and the requirements are in the center city. I think we accomplished both.”
An existing development that already reflects the downtown design standards, Taft said, is the Lincoln Park at Trinity Bluff apartments at 520 Samuels Ave.
The Lincoln apartments are part of a 45-acre project by Fort Worth developer Tom Struhs. He said he volunteered to have Lincoln built according to the downtown design standards even though the area was not part of the district at the time.
Expanding the boundary would make the standards formal, he said.
“We feel like this district allows us to have continuity of quality and design,” Struhs said.
The city council created the Downtown Urban Design District in 2001, and its last revision was in 2009.
The Zoning Commission approved the expanded district and its revised guidelines on May 11.