The Denton City Council is expected to take up a proposal to sell City Hall West and the fire station next door during a closed session Tuesday afternoon.
State law allows the council to discuss real estate matters behind closed doors in order to protect the public’s interest. Typically, surplus government property, including city property, goes out for bid, but it appears that the city is in talks with a developer about the two properties, located at 221 N. Elm St. and 217 W. McKinney St.
The Texas attorney general has ruled in favor of other kinds of exchanges when taxpayers are assured of fair market value for the property.
During a December meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Assistant City Manager John Cabrales told commissioners that the city staff has been reviewing a project for some time and that “the sale of City Hall West is part of a larger development proposal.”
His comments came after commissioners heard a presentation on the Denton County Historical Commission’s proposal to secure a state historical marker for the building and questioned the city’s reluctance over the matter.
Efforts for a state landmark were stymied earlier this year when the city’s Historic Landmark Commission was set to endorse the proposal in August. Members of the city planning staff stopped the group’s discussion in the middle of the agenda, saying that the City Council wasn’t in favor of a state marker for the 1927 Spanish Colonial Revival-style building. The Historic Landmark Commission revisited the item in November and endorsed the county’s proposal anyway.
City Hall West was designated as a local historic landmark in 1982, which offers one layer of protection. Any changes to the exterior, including any demolition, must be reviewed for appropriateness by the city’s Historic Landmark Commission.
The building’s architect, Elmer Van Slyke, used the architectural style for other public buildings, including some at Texas Christian University. The tiled roof and embellishments echo that of the Spanish missions of South Texas, but for Denton, it’s one of few buildings in that architectural style.
The county’s proposal offers another layer of protection and review in state landmark status. The city and state use the same standards for review and have the same limits of authority over a property’s exterior, but state landmarks are also eligible for grants that help pay for renovations, staff said.
But Cabrales told the Planning and Zoning Commission that the developer didn’t want to see the extra layer of review on the property that would come from being a state landmark. He told commissioners that he did not know whether the City Council would endorse the proposal.
As the property owner, the City Council’s endorsement is needed to secure a state landmark for City Hall West, Cabrales said.
Council members have acknowledged previously to the Denton Record-Chronicle that the city has had mixed results protecting its historic buildings, with developers razing some and altering others in ways that compromised their historic integrity.
This year, Texas Woman’s University demolished University House, which was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. A small, historic home on East Oak Street was razed after the city of Denton acquired most of that block, which includes the former county tax office, from Denton County. Most recently, a 1910-era building on Austin Street was razed to make room, ostensibly, for a food truck court.
Peggy Riddle, a member of the city’s Historic Landmark Commission and director for the Denton County Office of History and Culture, is working with a commission subcommittee to help identify other historic buildings that may be threatened. Even the Square, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has seen buildings altered in ways that could ultimately threaten that listing.
Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune said in an interview Friday that he expected to get a sense of the council’s interest in the developer’s proposal to acquire City Hall West and the old fire station during the closed session.
“We want to see if there is support for it,” Fortune said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.