Denton city leaders tacked on one more condition — one that would bring any demolition request before the City Council — as they approved a rezoning request by the owners of the former Fairhaven retirement home.
The rezoning came late Tuesday night, after the City Council met in closed session on conditions it would ultimately add to the new zoning, all aimed at preserving the facade of the building that has been vacant since July 2009.
A controversy erupted last spring, when the current owners, an investment group calling itself GreatVine Ministries, requested the zoning change.
Because the building was vacant more than six months, the owners lost the grandfathered right to continue operating Fairhaven as elder housing under current zoning.
GreatVine’s representatives then questioned the building’s provenance with the city’s Historic Landmark Commission, which triggered alarm bells both from the neighborhood and from those residents who care about the city’s history.
The Fairhaven building has been listed among the numerous works of famed Texas architect O’Neil Ford, who lived in Denton.
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.
Bell Avenue resident Deb Conte, speaking for the neighborhood, pointed to two different online listings offering the property for sale, one for about $1 million and a new one — just updated Tuesday — for $585,000.
“We still have no assurance in any way that the developers are really going to do what they say they are going to do,” Conte said. “They continue to promote this property as close to TWU [Texas Woman’s University].”
Conte maintained that the rezoning was what made the property valuable — with the possibility to build student apartments — not the building itself.
Ultimately, the underlying issue for those residents living close to Fairhaven was one of trust, Conte said.
Larry Reichhart, who represented GreatVine for the rezoning request, said he agreed that the new real estate listing clouded the picture for the neighborhood.
“The main issue is the trust factor with this applicant,” Reichhart said.
He added, however, that he personally felt comfortable that the neighborhood was protected with the conditions not to alter the building, which included the condition that a demolition request would have to come before the City Council.
“It doesn’t matter who comes in — and if someone did, I don’t think I would want to represent them,” Reichhart said, calling the zoning conditions a “contract with the neighborhood.”
Council member Chris Watts, who often describes himself as the “contrarian on the council,” told Conte and other residents of the neighborhood that he, too, understands the level of distrust.
But given the neighborhood didn’t need a blighted building either, he would put stock in the ordinance he believed met the needs of the neighborhood and the applicant.
“In the end, the trust that has to occur in this process lies with these seven [council] members up here,” Watts said.
“The main protection is that for anything that would happen that would bring to bear your fears, it has to come before this body.”
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org