Loving thy neighbor: The TCU Overlay meets the Golden Rule

Jan. 2 was the day the University of Houston defeated the University of Pittsburgh at a bowl game at Amon G. Carter Stadium, but Steve Harris remembers it for a different reason.

Harris lives in a house on Highview Terrace, a short walk away from the stadium. Thinking Harris was out of town, a TCU student living next door charged people to park their cars on Harris’ front lawn.

Harris was at home. He said the makeshift parking lot made a “muddy mess” of his yard.

“He destroys my yard on Jan. 2, and he has no clue why I’d be upset by that,” he said.

One effective tool to address problems like this could be a Good Neighbor Program, which would bring TCU, the neighborhoods and the city of Fort Worth together to develop behavioral standards for students living off-campus.

Ideas for the program include pamphlets of neighborhood information for students, student accountability for bad off-campus behavior and mediations between neighbors and students to work out ongoing problems, said Martha Jones, president of the Bluebonnet Hills Neighborhood Association.

A Good Neighbor Program could clearly communicate to residents the expectations of living in a neighborhood, said Dana Burghdoff, assistant director of planning and development for Fort Worth.

She said she likes the idea of having a program where there’s shared responsibility among the property owners, the students, the neighbors and the university.

“I think that the Good Neighbor Program applies to all residents, students or not,” Burghdoff said.

Harris wasn’t the only neighbor affected that day. The same student and his roommates parked cars in another neighbor’s yard as well, he said.

Harris said he’s had recurring problems with the different groups of students living next door since fall 2011, although some have been better behaved than others. He said he hasn’t had any complaints with the students living there this year.

His problems have included property destruction, large parties, trash and a number of cars parked on the street, Harris said.

Burghdoff said she’s heard a range of comments about students from neighbors. However, the minority were issues with students, which included overcrowding, noise, parking, and other “nuisance behavior.”

Harris said the TCU Residential Overlay helps with the number of cars parked on the street, but the problem for the neighbors is more about the behavior versus the quantity of residents.

In the fall of 2014, the Overlay brought attention to neighborhood concerns like student behavior. The Overlay ordinance was adopted by the Fort Worth City Council last December.

The Overlay lowered the maximum number of unrelated persons from five to three allowed to live in a single-family home in the area around TCU. Existing properties with more than three residents were excluded if the owners registered them with the city.

The Overlay can prevent the erosion of neighborhoods and preserve their integrity, but can’t fix code violations such as noise and trash, Jones said.

“We [city staff] tried to make it clear that those zoning regulations and rental registration requirements wouldn’t affect behavior,” Burghdoff said.

There are currently 665 rental properties, including both single-family houses and duplexes, registered within the boundaries of the Overlay, according to a rental document from the city’s Code Compliance Department. However, the rental document doesn’t specify which of the 665 properties are rented to students.

Fifty-two percent of TCU undergraduate students live off campus as of fall 2014, according to the TCU Office of Institutional Research.

That fall, a group of property owners, investors, neighbors, city staff, and TCU representatives met several times to discuss suggestions for the Overlay. The Good Neighbor Program came out of the discussion, Jones said.

The program intends to make living off-campus a better experience for students and neighbors through communication and education, Jones said. It would help students learn how to live in a neighborhood and provide “positive constructive solutions” to problems, she said.

She encourages residents to reach out and get to know the students in their neighborhoods and wants to incorporate that into the Good Neighbor Program.

“I’ve had pretty good success with the boys that have lived in the rental property next door by taking the time to introduce myself,” Jones said, “and by sharing telephone numbers and by talking to them about what the expectations are of living in a neighborhood.

And when it’s gotten out of line, they know that I won’t hesitate to call the police. And it’s worked out pretty well. Our block has been pretty calm the last few years.”

Paula Traynham said she went door-to-door to introduce herself as the students moved in. She welcomed students with cookies, brownies and handouts with the neighborhood’s trash rules, she said.

Traynham was the president of the Frisco Heights Neighborhood Association before she moved from her home earlier this year. She said she didn’t have many issues with the students in her neighborhood, who make up the majority of the renters there.

“We are lucky as a neighborhood because we have, on the whole, really good students,” said Traynham, who was also a part of the group that met last fall.

Harris said he still says hi to the student that parked cars on his lawn in January, although the student doesn’t live next door anymore.

“That’s all it is, is just learning boundaries,” he said. “Respect the Golden Rule. Respect the next guy.”

Michael Russel, assistant vice-chancellor for student affairs at TCU, is the head of the committee that will continue to discuss ideas for the Good Neighbor Program. The committee is a smaller portion of the group that met last fall, he said.

TCU Student Body President Reddick said she was the only student on the committee last year, but other SGA members are now involved. She said the group met earlier in October for the first time this year.

She said she thinks it’d be good to implement components of the program throughout this school year.

Last fall, Reddick co-authored a resolution to support the development of a Good Neighbor Program. The TCU Student Government Association adopted the resolution in November.

Russel said he doesn’t have a long-term vision for the program. It’s going to take a “consolidated effort” by landlords, owners, neighborhood associations, students, TCU and the city of Fort Worth to figure out the best approach to fix the issues, he said.

Currently, assistant deans in Campus Life meet with students if there’s an off-campus problem reported, Russel said. He said that’s generally effective.

In early October, the Fort Worth Police Department stated in an email to TCU Police that they would start arresting offenders at off-campus parties instead of giving warnings. As of Oct. 19, the FWPD are still handing out warnings, but are more likely to make arrests, according to a TCU 360 report.

Traynham said students and neighbors should first try to resolve issues together before the university, the city or the police step in.

“Legal action should be the end of the process,” Traynham said. “The beginning should be a plate of brownies.”