Fairhaven’s new owners have proposed a compromise that would preserve the building’s exterior, but the City Council again has postponed any decision on rezoning the property until Aug. 21.
Several members of the council asked the city staff for help in preparing a new “tool” — some kind of protective language, other than an overlay, that would allow them to accept the compromise and protect their intent in doing so.
In other words, Mayor Mark Burroughs said, the council wanted protection from what residents feared — that once rezoned, the current owner of the former Fairhaven retirement home would flip it to another developer and the historically significant building would be bulldozed for apartments or another use allowed under the new zoning.
The compromise proposed that the City Council add an overlay to the zoning change that preserved the building’s exterior, except for windows, and maintained the building’s current height.
During their regular meeting this week, council members saw the compromise as a significant step forward but called for additional public input.
“If we could just get people talking,” said council member Chris Watts.
For the first time, a member of GreatVine Ministries, owner of Fairhaven, came to a public meeting to speak for the group.
Shawn Thomas, of Chicago, told the City Council that 47 families in Illinois had pooled resources to find housing for the elderly and disabled in a warm climate.
Deals in other states had fallen through, Thomas said, before they learned that Fairhaven was in foreclosure and they made an offer to buy it. The continued delays have been hard on the group, he said.
Council member Kevin Roden asked Thomas to explain why GreatVine had published an online notice offering the building for sale. Thomas told Roden that their lender required the sale notice, in case they couldn’t get a certificate of occupancy.
After the previous postponement, the council had asked Larry Reichhart, who has been representing GreatVine Ministries through the city’s permit process, to hold a meeting with the neighborhood to address concerns about the transition.
Fairhaven has been listed among the works of famed Texas architect O’Neil Ford. Earlier this year, GreatVine’s architect raised questions about the degree of Ford’s involvement in Fairhaven’s design and construction. Since then, both the city’s Historic Landmark Commission and the Denton County Historical Commission have written letters supporting the building’s preservation.
Reichhart had maintained that GreatVine sought rezoning of the Fairhaven site for an assisted living facility, and it has been vacant since Fairhaven closed in July 2009.
He and GreatVine proposed the compromise, thinking it would address the problem. They did not hold a neighborhood meeting, in part because Reichhart said that he has been having health problems.
“Honestly, I thought this would take care of it,” Reichhart said. “I didn’t think I needed to run it up the flagpole.”
Rynell Novak, who came to the meeting to represent the county historical commission, delivered a statement in support of the building’s preservation and later returned to the podium to tell the council that she would support the proposed compromise.
Roden, who represents the district where Fairhaven is located, on North Bell Avenue, expressed some reluctance to delay the vote again. But he also questioned whether the city could secure some kind of endorsement or “certificate of appropriateness” from the historical groups about the proposed compromise.
“This is new ground for us,” Roden said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .