Fort Worth Zoning Commission postpones decision on TCU overlay district

At its meeting Wednesday, the Fort Worth Zoning Commission pushed back a decision on whether to create a special zoning area around Texas Christian University.

Concerned homeowners, investors and a few students flooded the Council Chambers at City Hall in an attempt to influence the decision on the “residential overlay district.”

The proposed ordinance would restrict the number of unrelated adults who can live in a single-family home from five to three in TCU-area neighborhoods. It’s meant to deal with the increased student population and neighbors’ complaints about parking, noise and trash in residential neighborhoods surrounding TCU.

However, after hearing from the public, commissioners said many different conditions were brought to their attention, making it too difficult of a decision to make in a single meeting.

“I feel as though there is a better decision, or at least a better solution to the case that requires more time,” Commissioner Charles Edmonds said.

The commission voted 9-0 to delay the matter for 30 days.

Options presented to the Fort Worth Zoning Commission included grandfathering existing properties with more than three unrelated residents. One option was to grandfather them with no time limit as long as more than three people live in them. Another would grandfather them until 2029.

No grandfathering would require current properties to comply by June 2016.

Opponents of the overlay applauded one another after voicing their opinions at the podium as to why grandfathering should be a necessity if passed.

Chris Powers, an investor and developer around TCU, said property values would decrease drastically without grandfathering.

“Investors are not buying units near TCU until this gets resolved," he said. "If it does not get grandfathered, they will no longer buy from us. If we were cut to 40 percent less occupancy, the situation would change overnight.”

TCU graduate and 20-year local investor Natalie Weimer sees the problem as not necessarily the students but other factors.

“It’s not fair to say there is an issue with students living off campus. We need to find a peaceful solution to cohabitation," she said. "As a gentleman mentioned earlier, there are respectful students. They are not zoning issues that we are going to take care of by reducing the occupancy number to three people. They are things that are going to be taken care of by code enforcement, TCU support and tenant education."

Many proponents of the zoning change in the community do not want grandfathering as an option.

Martha Jones, a resident of Wabash Avenue since 1980 and vice president of the Bluebonnet Hills Neighborhood Association, said, “We are opposed to grandfathering.”

“These large five-bedroom structures infringe not only on [the] integrity, quality and character of single-family homes," she said, "but they threaten to diminish all family neighborhoods surrounding TCU.”

The overlay would include single-family zoned properties in the neighborhoods of Frisco Heights, University Place, Paschal, Bluebonnet Place, Bluebonnet Hills, Westcliff, Westcliff West, Colonial Hills, Tanglewood, University West, University Place, Park Hill, Park Hill Place and Berkeley Place.

Paula Traynham, president of the Frisco Heights Neighborhood Association, said that her members are certainly for the overlay.

“They are definitely in favor of improving the parking on streets. Not in favor of any grandfathering whatsoever," she said. "We have four newly developed ‘stealth dorms’ in Frisco Heights."

TCU presently houses 48.3 percent of its student body on-campus; the remaining students live off-campus, according to the zoning commission.

The stricter regulations could create issues for students, leaving them without a place to live or forcing them to travel farther distances to campus.

Maddie Reddick, TCU student body vice president of external affairs and a resident of Greene Avenue, presented a petition with 741 signatures collected around campus against the overlay. She said it is still generating responses.

“Students are very concerned about where they are going to be living if this is passed," she said. "That is not saying the students are closed to compromise. We love the city and living here. From the student body’s standpoint we would support an overlay as long as there was a grandfather clause that would last until 2029 at minimum and an eternity at maximum.”

By the end of the afternoon the zoning commission could not make a final decision on the controversial case on its agenda.

“I can see both sides of this, but after hearing everyone speak it is a very tough decision," Commissioner Melissa McDougall said.

"I think we have some preliminary plans that can be adjusted and modified," she said. "I know everyone has probably met time after time and wants to put this decision at rest, but I think we need to go through with this very cautiously.”

Commissioner Gaye Reed said the city may have to make minor adjustments to the boundaries of the special zoning area to include parts of Tanglewood, Overton Park and Paschal.

Even though the overlay was left open for debate in the future, another matter regarding parking was not.

The current parking requirement for single-family dwellings is two parking spaces per unit regardless of the number of bedrooms.

Now, newly constructed one-family districts will require two spaces per dwelling unit with up to three bedrooms plus one space for each additional bedroom.