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Stockyards Task Force prepares to deliver report to zoning, council

🕐 6 min read

 Last year, Stockyards stakeholders packed City Council chambers for months hoping to halt or delay council-backed tax incentives for a 1 million-square-foot $175 million redevelopment by a partnership between a California-based firm and a veteran Stockyards family.

This summer, a year after the council approved $26 million in tax incentives for the Majestic Realty-Hickman family partnership, opponents of the project shifted their focus to the Historic Stockyards Design District Task Force.

The 16-member task force appointed by the council to create design standards and guidelines for future Stockyards developments was nearly derailed by three months of overflow crowds and indecisiveness about their role.

After twice delaying deadlines to submit a proposed design ordinance to the city, however, task force members now hope they can finish their work soon. A Sept. 3 meeting is scheduled to review and vote on a final draft for submission to the Zoning Commission and City Council.

“The mayor pretty much reeled us back in,” said task force member Keith Powell, president of the Stockyards Business Association. “She told us to get back to what we asked you to do _ the design principles. We weren’t really commissioned to do the historic part that a lot of people still think is important.”

As expected, what was billed as the last opportunity for public comment drew about 100 observers including longtime Stockyards residents and historic preservation advocates to the Wednesday night (Aug. 26) meeting at River Ranch.

That’s about the same number _ with some new faces _ who packed at least three previous task force meetings, delaying task force discussion and votes on the proposed ordinance.

By limiting discussion Aug. 19 to the task force, city staff and consultants, the group finally voted on height guidelines in different parts of the Stockyards, a key element of the ordinance that had divided members for weeks.

The area around Exchange Avenue and Main Street that people generally call the Stockyards will have a 3-story height guideline on new structures _ the height of most existing buildings, said Randy Gideon, the consultant drafting the ordinance. The lowest height currently is 2-stories, although owners could apply for 1-story buildings, he said

That 3-story restriction also takes in the parking lot areas south of the mule barns and behind Stockyards Station, down to Marine Creek _ part of the Majestic-Hickman project.

Other areas of the larger surrounding Stockyards area will be subject to the mixed-use zoning that the council adopted last year. Most buildings in those areas have 5-story height guidelines. A few have 10-story guidelines. But any new building within 50 feet of an existing historic building will have to meet the 3-story guideline.

In response to criticism of the higher height guidelines, deputy development director Dana Burghdoff reminded the audience that the Stockyards was zoned heavy industrial in 1940 and had virtually no guidelines until the mixed use zoning was adopted last year.

Gideon, hired by the Stockyards Business Association to help the task force craft the ordinance, spent about 45 minutes Wednesday night explaining the boundaries, height restrictions and other details of the 50-page draft before fielding questions from the audience.

Questions and comments came from more than a dozen people, ranging from longtime residents with poignant pleas to save the historic Stockyards to historic preservation advocates who criticized the task force for not protecting the Stockyards from new development.

“I realize that this for new development, but historic preservation is important,” said Jerre Tracy, executive director of Historic Fort Worth, whose group declared the Stockyards and endangered historic site and was instrumental in getting a similar designation by a national historic group.

Although city officials have repeatedly said the task force is not charged with creating a historic district, Tracy urged Gideon to include information in the document about state and national tax credits property owners can receive for renovating historic buildings.

The Fort Worth historic preservation advocates were joined by Brad Patterson, a spokesman for the Texas Historical Society, who elaborated on a 3-page letter received by task force members and city officials this week.

“We support bringing new investment into the Stockyards,” Patterson said. “We applaud the work the Task Force is trying to do to preserve the historical nature. But we believe there is a lot of ambiguity that will make it difficult to enforce.”

Patterson offered the state group’s help in clarifying what they consider unclear unenforceable guidelines in the proposed ordinance.

That offer was met with mixed response from Gideon.

“If there are things here to make this less vague, I’ll be happy to address it,” he said. “But 85 percent of your letter is about things we can’t do. They’re not what we’re tasked to do.”

Gideon was referring to continuing insistence by historic preservation advocates that task force should be working on form-based codes, a type of zoning regulation that focuses on buildings’ relationship to the area around them.

That includes design and form, mass and scale, not just the more limited design guidelines the task force is working on, say preservationists, who also want the city to establish a local district to protect historic buildings.

Neither of those are what the city council asked the task force to do, Gideon said.

But Libby Willis, former executive director of Preservation Texas and Historic Fort Worth, said that the City Council voted 8-1 last year to develop form-based codes for the Stockyards and she doesn’t believe that can be changed without a council vote.

Council member Sal Espino, who represents the Stockyards, said the council did not abandon plans for form-based codes. Because that process takes up to two years, Espino said, the city began by adopting mixed-use zoning for the Stockyards, followed by the design ordinance to guide new development. Those steps can pave the way for form-based codes in the future, he said.

As for calls by Willis and others for the city to establish a local district to protect historic Stockyards buildings, Espino said that’s up the residents who live there.

“We usually require a full 50 percent of property owners to be behind it,” he said. “I’m not hearing that. I am hearing a lot about preserving the character of the Stockyards. We’ll wait to hear what the rest of the public has to say. Ultimately the council has to decide what’s recommended by the task force.”

Elected officials are who the public should be talking to next, said task force member Robert Gutierrez, who represents the Stockyards area on the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission.

“Sal Espino is your councilman from this area. Let your concerns be made to him or the mayor or your own council member if you don’t live in this area,” Gutierrez said.

The article was updated to include more precise wording in some sections. 

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