Council Discusses Crumbling City Hall

Rodney WilliamsManaging Editor

Two things are apparent stemming from Tuesday night’s session of the Van Alstyne City Council. One, the city is poised for growth as a new business owner is prepared to begin work on a currently empty building at the highest-trafficked corner in town and a large new residential development is set to begin moving earth. Two, City Hall is in desperate need of a serious renovation and is, ironically, probably one of the least safe buildings in the city.

First, growth. Prior to the council meeting aldermen discussed a Zoning Board of Adjustments item in which a prospective new business owner was requesting a variance on the masonry requirement for his building, located at the southeast corner of Van Alstyne Parkway and U.S. Highway 5. The owner of the building requested a variance to the masonry requirement so that he could use stucco instead. Council members were not keen to do so as there was no real reason for the variance and no hardship but did discuss using faux stone which resembles masonry but is lighter and cheaper than brick. The owner was amenable to the request and Council approved the use of faux stone on 80 percent of three sides with full faux stone in the rear in a 4-1 vote with Timmerle Kelly voting against.

A significant new residential development was brought before Council for approval of its development plans. Driscoll Hill is a proposed development of 54 acres located at U.S. Highway 75 and County Line Rd. The civil engineer involved with the project, Josh Edge of Dynamic Engineering out of Allen, addressed Council and answered questions, sometimes deferring to developer James Hurt. The development will consist of 142 lots, one of which will serve as an amenities area.

When questioned about what builders will be in Driscoll Hill, Hurt stated that he’s in talks with several developers but none would sign on until he got the development plans approved by the city. The homes will be priced around $250,000. The multi-family development will be built coinciding with the sewer/water line project running from Highway 5 west under 75. Driscoll Hill will operate off of those lines, and VA City Engineer Len McManus, of McManus & Johnson, said the projects will be “on top of each other.” Edge said ground breaking should be anywhere from later this month to mid-March.

Council approved the development plans in a 5-0 vote contingent upon some of the city engineer’s comments regarding the plans being satisfactorily addressed.

A discussion of City Hall was next on the agenda and it brought to light what a sorry state city staff’s home really is in. Ryan Stoltz, of Structures Texas, Inc., spoke of his analysis of City Hall after spending a day doing a study of the building.

Stoltz explained that the building—built in the early 1900s—used 16-inch brick as a supporting structure unlike buildings today that use it solely on the outside and that lime-based mortar was originally used with the brick. Paintwork done in past years effectively helped seal in moisture and has ruined the mortar which, basically, holds the masonry together.

“The mortar is just powder,” said Stoltz, who showed a photo of him inserting a pen five inches into one of the many holes in the mortar between bricks.

Stoltz stated that various repairs and “band-aids” done in the past are “not doing well.” He showed photos of severe cracking on the north wall, holes in the brick walls, loose bricks, holes in floors and ceilings on the inside of the structure and severe water damage. Stoltz at one point stated that a strong wind could blow bricks off the parapet. One photo showed prior fire damage which was still evident on some second-story wood members. Furthermore, part of the original tin ceiling has rust and holes and will probably need to be replaced.

The only bright seemed to be the wood foundation that Stoltz found to be “in good shape.”

Mayor Teddie Ann Salmon discussed that history of the building (along with Douglas Floral it contains one of the two remaining original bank safes in town) and said that “It has never been repaired; it has been ignored.”

Councilman Billy Plake asked the question on the tip of most everyone’s tongue: “Is it too dangerous to be in?”

Stoltz, choosing his words carefully, replied, “It’s a safety concern,” and went on to conjecture that the building’s lifespan could be as short as just a few years.

“Something needs to be done soon. It’s not in good shape,” said Stoltz.

This was a discussion item only and no action was taken.

In other Council news, aldermen approved three new Economic Development Corporation board members and one new Community Development Corporation board member. James Lewis, Randy Usselton and Patrick Flynn were approved for the EDC Board while Collin Flynn was approved for the CDC Board.

Also approved was a resolution granting a petition of voluntary annexation of five tracts on land into the City of Van Alstyne. The five tracts all constitute 117.315 acres of the same property. Council also approved the setting of public hearing dates for the annexation. Those dates will be announced at a later date.

COUNCIL NOTES: Mayor Teddie Ann Salmon was authorized to sign a consent of inclusion of city limit overlap and dually certification area in the proposed South Grayson Special Utility District boundary… Council ordered the general election for May 9… Council repealed Ordinance No. 620 and adopted a Water Resource and Emergency Management Plan for the city to promote responsible use of water… The March meeting was re-scheduled and will be held a week earlier on March 3 due to Spring Break… Keep Van Alstyne Beautiful was presented a $2,000 check from Republic Services.