Fort Worth Zoning Commission votes for stricter residential housing rules around TCU

By TCU 360

A plan to limit the number of students allowed to live in single family homes in the TCU area was passed today, but with a key exception.

The Fort Worth Zoning Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend restricting the number of unrelated persons allowed to live in a single family home from five to three.

However, the recommendation allows property owners who currently rent to more than three unrelated people to be excluded. If property owners file registration with the city by March 31, 2015, they can continue to rent to more than three.

The commission referred to this exclusion as "grandfathering."

This exception means many TCU students will be able to continue living in groups of up to five.

"If we had said, 'you don't get grandfathered', what would we do?" said Gaye Reed, the commissioner for district 9. "Thats the thing, be careful what you wish for, because you may end up with a bigger problem that what you have on the ground."

The zoning around TCU has been debated for months. On Oct. 8, the zoning commission voted to delay a decision about the zoning for 30 days.

In the month that followed, a committee of residents, investors, members of TCU Student Government Association and many other stakeholders met three times to discuss options.

Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa led the mediation committee. During the meetings, the stakeholders created the plan which the commissioners voted to recommend.

Although the committee reached a compromise, many stakeholders at the hearing were critical.

Residents called homes that have five bedrooms or more "stealth dorms," because they are larger than what a single family would need.

A male resident in the TCU area said so many people living together raises legal questions.

He supported the proposal, but wanted clarification that, "the grandfather clause is not to make legal an unlawful use of land that may currently exist."

He said that many properties are currently unlawful in their single family zoning because they are used as "lodging houses, fraternity houses, fraternity annex houses, boarding houses," and more.

Executive Vice President of the Greater Fort Worth Builders Association Jon Samson said the new zoning won't fix any problems, but the builders support the grandfathering.

"It's an unnecessary resolution to problems that are going to continue." said Samson. "The [builders] would rather not see the zoning occur, but if the council approves it, then grandfathering is the right and just thing to do," said Samson.

Martha Jones, vice president of the Bluebonnet Hills Neighborhood Association, was originally strongly against grandfathering, but changed her mind after the meetings.

"After many, many, many hours of detailed conversation, I feel like the mediation's proposal is the best for all parties." said Jones. "The investors that have come to the table are the ones that care about their properties and have worked very hard to maintain them, and it is huge that we have come to this conclusion."

Student Body President Cody Westphal said the TCU Student Government Association feels good about the compromise.

"As a house we voted on a document that was pretty much exactly what they passed today," said Westphal. "Neighborhoods have a right to be upset that homes are being knocked down and five bedrooms are being built. But with this, students can still have the option to live close to campus."

Reed said that although the issue was extremely contentious, the process works.

"If you had attended the very first mediation meeting, or you attended the first meeting here at the zoning, where we continued it, you would have had no hope that we would have reached what we reached today," said Reed. "Its a process, it doesn't always come out this well."

Reed said the recommended ordinance will be heard by the City Council on Dec. 2.

"The way the ordinance is written, it goes into effect immediately upon the council's approval," Reed said.

Nicolo Genua, commissioner for district seven whose daughter attends TCU, said action is needed from the university, not just the city.

"Whether we go from five people to one person, there is a behavioral component that comes into play here," Genua said. "Given that over half the students that attend TCU live off campus, I really think that if TCU wants to be a good community citizen, they need to do something. They're as much of an issue as anything else."

Genua's statement was met with applause from the crowd.

This article appeared previously on TCU 360 is an official, student-produced product of the Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University.