New panel working to preserve Van Alstyne’s heritage

By Joshua Baethge
For the Van Alstyne Leader
Van Alstyne’s new architectural review panel is one of several steps the city has taken to make downtown more vibrant.

Van Alstyne’s newly created architectural review panel met for the first time last week. It’s a mix of local volunteers that includes a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission, a local historian and a lifelong resident. The group has been tasked with helping downtown property owners maintain a look that remains true to the city’s heritage. 

According to City Manager Lane Jones, this is the next step in making the downtown square a more vibrant place that attracts more residents as well as people from neighboring communities. The new Central Social District Park being built this year is expected to bring more people downtown.  He says now is the time to put measures in place that encourage building owners to respect the history of Van Alstyne. 

“Holding on to our past is very important as we move into the future,” Jones said. “Cities that protect their downtown and take the necessary steps are able to hang on to that culture.”

The city previously created a downtown overlay district within the area bound by East Van Alstyne Parkway, South Waco Street, East Marshall Street and the downtown railroad tracks. The guidelines for this district call for the preservation of the area's historic character. 

These days, when downtown buildings become available, they don’t’ stay on the market long. The architectural review panel along with the city ordinances are designed to ensure that renovations to those buildings are doing with the city’s character in mind.

Jones emphasizes that the review panel is not intended to be an enforcer, but rather a group that assists building owners with their plans. The panel will be tasked with reviewing submissions from building owners and then working with them to formulate plans that meet the requirements outlined by the city.  When they do, the owners will be issued a certificate of appropriateness. With that certificate in hand, they can then approach the CDC about possibly receiving a grant to get their building up to do to. 

“I think our business owners are all good people who want to do what’s right and are starting to understand our vision,” Jones said.

That vision comes from cities near and far that have successfully revitalized their city centers into bustling destinations.  Jones cites Nashville and Branson, Missouri as cities that have successfully transformed their urban core.  Closer to home, he’s studied what’s been done in places like McKinney, Plano and Celina as examples of what’s possible for Van Alstyne. 

“We want our downtown to be a great downtown that is a destination,” he says. “We want it to be a very attractive square that’s vibrant and people want to come to.”