The Granbury City Council, at its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 5, voted unanimously to remove the local landmark designation from the building just off the square that is referred to by the city as Old Granbury Hospital/Opera House Dormitory.
Deputy City Manager Michael Ross acknowledged what local historians who fought to save the city-owned building feared – that the removal will allow the potential buyer to proceed “with what, inevitably, would be a demolition.”
The city has been negotiating with a potential buyer for the sale of the 76-year-old building at 116 S. Houston St., but the buyer’s identity and plans for the site have not been publicly revealed.
City Manager Chris Coffman said last month that he had granted an extension of the negotiations to the end of July.
The City Council’s vote to remove the landmark designation came just weeks after the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission voted against removing the label.
Final decisions fall to the City Council, though.
The elected officials voted to approve the city’s request to remove the designation even though some conveyed sadness over what they felt was a need to do so.
Ten people signed up to speak on the matter, some of whom had also beseeched the HPC and P&Z to protect the structure’s historic status. They cited its architectural significance and expressed fear that other properties previously protected by the landmark umbrella could be targeted for demolition.
The Houston Street building served as the city’s hospital from 1946 until 1970 when it became a dormitory for actors and stagehands working at the historic Granbury Opera House on the square.
In December 2017, the city evicted the building’s residents after an inspection revealed a number of issues that led to the structure being deemed unsafe. Ross said that electricity was disconnected because of electrocution risks.
Exposed asbestos and lead paint, both of which are dangerous and costly to abate, raised concerns among city officials about using public money to finance a project that most taxpayers might not consider important.
Greg Corrigan and Trish Reiner are the only elected officials currently seated who were on the City Council in 2018 when the city hired an architectural firm to perform a cost analysis for repairing the building.
At that time, the city held off on razing the building to allow individuals and groups who wanted to save it to raise funds or otherwise help in addressing the problem.
No solution materialized.
DECISION TO ACT
A document supporting Tuesday’s agenda item stated that under the city’s current ordinance, no privately-owned building would be allowed to remain in such a condition.
“The city delaying demolition or immediate repair is technically in violation of state laws and our own ordinances,” the document stated.
Several council members indicated empathy for those wanting to save the building but also a belief that the council had no choice but to do what was necessary to allow it to be sold.
“Sometimes it’s time to move forward and take what we have and make it better,” Reiner, the mayor pro tem, said.
It was noted during the lengthy discussion that costs to restore the one-story structure, estimated in 2018 to be approximately $3 million, have since doubled. Meanwhile, doing nothing for the past four years has only increased the city’s liability.
Ross said that break-ins occasionally occur there, including in recent days.
At one point during the discussion, the council went into executive session to discuss what Mayor Jim Jarratt said were “three legal questions.”
Upon reconvening into open session, a few more minutes of consideration ensued before the vote was taken.
Ross indicated that in addition to requesting that the landmark plaque be removed, the potential buyer is also going to request a zoning change “that will allow for a little more flexibility.”
However, he noted that the buyer will still be required to adhere to certain stipulations of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.