It all started in the summer of 2014, when the Fort Worth City Council granted a $26 million incentive for California-based developer Majestic Realty and Fort Worth’s Hickman family to redevelop part of the Stockyards. The move kicked off a whirlwind of public meetings filled with passionate opinions of people asking the same question: What should redevelopment in the Stockyards look like?
The city has spent two years working out design and zoning regulations for the Stockyards, and on April 5 the council is expected to vote to create a historic district for Fort Worth’s iconic landmark. But that’s just part of the story.
To better understand what’s going on with redevelopment, let’s divide the Stockyards saga into four main parts: the Majestic-Hickman project, the design overlay district, the historic district and the form-based code district.
What is it? It is a plan to bring a hotel, retail and other development to 70 acres in the Stockyards that the Hickman family owns. The Hickmans have teamed up with Majestic Realty (together called Fort Worth Heritage Development) to develop the $175 million project.
• June 2014: City Council approves incentive for Majestic-Hickman. Majestic Realty and the Hickmans will be given an economic development grant worth up to $26 million over 25 years.
• July 2014: City Council changes Stockyards zoning temporarily. Approving the incentive deal for Majestic-Hickman prompted the city to also change the zoning in the Stockyards, since the area didn’t have many development regulations at first. The Stockyards east of North Main Street was zoned “‘K’ heavy industrial,” while the west side had “MU-2 high-intensity mixed-use” zoning. Hoping to better define what can and cannot be built in the Stockyards, the city council voted to put interim zoning on the area, designating most of the Stockyards east of North Main Street as “PD/MU-2” zoning as opposed to “‘K’ heavy industrial.”
• October 2015: Landmarks Commission approves mule barn renovation. The Majestic-Hickman project continued to move forward as the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission approved a project to renovate the horse and mule barns on East Exchange Avenue. Plans for this renovation include turning some spaces into storefront retail space. The project is slated to begin in later this year.
• March 1: Mule barn gets highest historic designation. The city council voted March 1 to designate the east mule barn at 124 East Exchange Ave. as “highly significant and endangered” (HSE), meaning the building will receive the highest level of protection and tax incentives. The west mule barn is already designated as HSE.
Design Overlay District
What is it? It is a district that includes about 240 acres in the Stockyards, roughly bounded by Northeast 28th Street, Clinton Avenue, 23rd Street and the Union Pacific Railroad on the east side. Any new development within this district must follow a set of standards and guidelines that regulate design. This district is temporary until a form-based code district is created.
• October 2014: City Council appoints Historic Stockyards Design District Task Force. The city council put together a team of Stockyards property owners, city officials and other stakeholders to write standards and guidelines for Stockyards redevelopment. Those standards and guidelines would regulate things like building heights, signage, building setbacks and other aspects of design. The document would cover not just the Majestic-Hickman project, but also other new developments in the surrounding areas of the Stockyards. The area would become known as the “design overlay district.”
• September 2015: The Historic Stockyards Design District Task Force finishes final draft of design overlay district standards and guidelines. The task force held public meetings for almost a year before coming up with the final draft of the design overlay district standards and guidelines. The document would need to be reviewed by the Urban Design Commission and Zoning Commission before receiving a final vote of approval from the city council.
• December 2015-January 2016: Urban Design Commission and Zoning Commission approve design overlay document, but with changes. The Urban Design Commission and Zoning Commission held public hearings on the design overlay document and voted to approve it, with some wording changes. The changes turned some of the design guidelines into design standards – in other words, some design elements became requirements rather than suggestions.
• Feb. 2: Design overlay gets final approval from city council. Although the Urban Design Commission and Zoning Commission made some changes to the design overlay document, the city council decided against the proposed changes and to stick with the original document drafted by the Historic Stockyards Design District Task Force. The design overlay was enforced about a week after the vote.
What is it? It is a district with certain protections that would help maintain the historic character of the area. It will be a subdistrict (that is, “a district within a district”) inside the form-based code district. Any development within this district must follow a set of standards and guidelines that are yet to be written.
• November 2015: City Council hears briefing on what the historic district could look like. The proposed historic district, drawn by city staff, roughly is bounded by a portion of Houston Street on the west, part of Stockyards Boulevard on the north, Niles City Boulevard on the east and 23rd Street on the south. Pleased with the proposed boundaries, the city council voted to kick off a public hearing process in which the district would pass through the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission and Zoning Commission before coming back to the city council for final approval.
• Jan. 29: Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission draws a second historic district with bigger boundaries. After hearing public comments that the historic district needed to be bigger, the Landmarks Commission met to draw an expanded version of the district with the help of the nonprofit historic preservation group Historic Fort Worth Inc. The expanded district covers roughly the same area as the city council’s district, but includes more of 23rd Street and the area east of Niles City Boulevard. The expanded boundaries include the former Swift and Co. property and Armour and Co. property in the district.
• Feb. 8: Historic and Cultural Landmarks commission approves expanded historic district. The Landmarks Commission had two versions of the historic district to consider: a smaller district backed by the city council and a larger district drawn by Historic Fort Worth Inc. and the Landmarks Commission members themselves. The commission voted in for the larger district and recommended that the city council do the same.
• March 9: Zoning Commission approves expanded historic district boundary. The Zoning Commission voted similarly to the Landmarks Commission. Although both commissions recommend that the city council approve the larger boundary, the final decision is up to the council. Councilmembers could still vote for the smaller district they originally proposed.
• April 5: City Council holds final public hearing and votes on historic district. After this vote, the historic district will be a done deal.
Form-Based Code District
What is it? It is a district that will eventually replace the design overlay district and PD/MU-2 zoning. While the design overlay district only regulates design, the form-based code district will regulate both design and use of the property. Any new development within this district must follow a set of standards and guidelines that are yet to be written.
• March 29: City Council chooses consultant to create standards and guidelines for form-based code and historic district. Code Studio, a design and coding firm from Austin, was hired to be in charge of writing the standards and guidelines for the form-based code and historic district. After the city council approves the historic district, the firm will work with the city and Fort Worth residents to write the document in the coming months.
What are all these commissions?
The city has a several commissions that handle various aspects of planning. The key players in the Stockyards redevelopment are:
• Zoning Commission: Handles cases involving – you guessed it – zoning.
• Urban Design Commission: Handles cases involving development in design districts. A design district is a designated area where only certain types of building designs are allowed. Examples of Fort Worth design districts are the Downtown Urban Design District and the Near Southside Development District.
• Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission: Handles cases involving historic districts. A historic district is a designated area that follows the architectural style of a certain historical period. Examples of Fort Worth historic districts are Mistletoe Heights and Fairmount/Southside.
To learn more or get involved, contact Fort Worth Planning and Development.
Photos courtesy of Majestic Realty and the City of Fort Worth.