IMAGE: University next door

By Justine Grace

This story first appeared in IMAGE Magazine.

Walking down Lubbock Avenue is like a trip through the history of the neighborhoods surrounding Texas Christian University.

Nestled along the street are small, one-story bungalows with guest cottages in the back, built in the 1920s and ‘30s. Tree cover dapples the sunlight streaming through the leaves. On a chilly Monday morning, students make their way to class. Moving closer to campus, boxy, three-story townhomes with paved parking behind are more frequent. More walking reveals two-story homes, with stone and brick facades and that new-build polish.

A reminder of the not-so-distant past – a discarded Keystone Light can in a yard – also offers a clue into the area’s recent history.

Since 2000, TCU’s full-time undergraduate enrollment increased by 41 percent, from 6,069 to 8,586. Since 1995, it increased 64 percent, according to the TCU Office of Institutional Research.

As TCU grew, so did the number of students living off campus. Those students have driven demand for more housing, and investors have redeveloped and built to fulfill that demand. However, some neighbors are tired of the development boom and immature student neighbors.

Five, six and seven-bedroom houses filled with students who don’t know the basic etiquette of living in a neighborhood frustrate neighbors. Tensions flare when these five to seven tenants – and their friends – park on the street.

“I knew that there was a zoo down the street, but that doesn’t mean that I want a baboon walking in my yard,” Paula Traynham, former president of the Frisco Heights Neighborhood Association located east of campus, said.

But the boom seems to be slowing down. The city of Fort Worth passed the TCU Overlay, changing zoning laws around the university to limit the number of unrelated tenants, mainly students, in a single-family home in 2014, in the hopes of slowing down development. TCU committed to capping enrollment at 10,000 students, halting the sharp increases seen in the past 20 years. TCU is also creating a Good Neighbor Program to educate students on proper neighborhood etiquette.

There are two factors contributing to the growing student presence in the neighborhoods around TCU: a significant increase in student population and a decrease in overall population.

TCU students make up about 19 percent of the population around TCU, using data from the 76109 ZIP code that encompasses the area immediately surrounding the university. This is up from about 13 percent in 2000.

About 1,200 more students reside off campus now than in 2000 in a community – within the 76109 ZIP code – that has seen a 1,700-person population decrease in the same amount of time. The number of students living off campus increased by about 600 from just 2010 to 2012. With an increase in students, comes an increase in need for housing.

With an overall population decrease and student population increase, it’s no wonder the area has changed.

Building boom: development comes to the area

Developers have been eager to fill that need. From 2011 to 2015, there were more than 100 residential building permits filed and finalized in the 76109 ZIP code, according to the city of Fort Worth’s open data portal. Of these, most were new residences or duplexes.

There are 664 rental properties registered with Fort Worth in the area around TCU, according to the city’s rental record.

Residents saw the development first-hand.

Russell Dumas has lived in the area around TCU in three separate decades, each a different snapshot.

He grew up in the Bluebonnet Place neighborhood south of campus in the 1960s, lived in the Frisco Heights neighborhood east of campus from 1982 to 1986 and now lives in the University West neighborhood north of campus since 2006.

He’s seen the neighborhoods change from mostly families during his childhood in the ‘60s and during his time here in the ‘80s, to more student renters when he moved back with his family in 2006.

“Many of the people I knew, their houses aren’t there anymore,” Dumas said.

Frisco Heights resident Tim Latta said the neighborhood changed drastically since she moved in three years ago. About a year and a half ago two stealth dorms, large homes or duplexes built specifically for students, were built next door.

“I can see the car port from my living room,” Latta said, “and at night it’s lit like a prison.”

It’s a huge difference from the lush green space that occupied the two corner lots before, Latta said, who was drawn to the neighborhood because of the mid-century modern house and the forest-like atmosphere in the back yard.

Latta’s neighbor Mary Margaret Floyd, a 25-year resident, is in the same situation. Her home, mainly on the second story, nestled on a hill, used to feel like “a secret garden,” Floyd said.

Floyd moved to the neighborhood because of the plentiful tree cover and the privacy to sit on her porch and enjoy nature in a bustling area. However, now only a thin veil of leaves shields her from the looming complexes.

From Floyd’s porch, she can see the stealth dorm over Latta’s house. Floyd said the attitude in the neighborhood changed from peaceful to hostile, constantly battling the city, developers and zoning.

“I felt threatened,” she said.

While she still loves her home and it’s “still a retreat” for her, she is afraid that when it comes time for her or her children to sell her property they will have no choice but to sell it to a developer.

Traynham also saw this change in the heavily affected Frisco Heights neighborhood.

About seven years ago, a developer purchased a whole block of Lubbock Avenue, and wanted to turn it into apartments, said Traynham. The Frisco Heights neighborhood association organized and went back and forth on plans with the developer. They came to a compromise that, according to Traynham, neither party liked. The developer, who decided the block was no longer worth the investment, ended up selling the land to TCU. TCU demolished the houses, Traynham said, and the block is now commuter parking for the university.

“It wiped out an entire block of character,” said Traynham. “There were some old, dilapidated houses, but also some well-kept and new properties.”

Beth Bagwell, executive director of the International Town and Gown Association that works with cities and universities to improve relations, said gentrification and change around the edges of universities is a national trend, and some communities enforce harsh measures to stop development.

For example, the city of Boulder enforced a residential unit moratorium on the University Hill area by University of Colorado Boulder, stopping residential uses in the area from August 2014 until March 2015. An ordinance to halt the expansion of student residential property to focus on more commercial development was passed after the moratorium expired.

The city of Fort Worth took slightly less drastic measures.

Students have lived off-campus for a long time, but the increase in students seeking housing and the new developments catered for them put neighborhoods “in a defensive position of trying to maintain their historic character,” Dana Burghdoff, assistant director of planning for Fort Worth, said.

Traynham said even though developers followed zoning rules, neighbors felt taken advantage of because developers pushed the limits on what was acceptable in a neighborhood with single-family-style homes, with paved parking lots and towering three-story townhomes next to frame cottage houses.

Investors saw a lot of cheap property that hadn’t been maximized, said Traynham.

Investors Mark and Natalie Weimer said they took advantage of the Neighborhood Empowerment Zone program – which incentivizes new development in areas in Fort Worth, including the TCU area, with fee waivers, tax reductions and release from city loan collection – when they redeveloped properties, but have always been careful to follow city guidelines.

The couple owns 40 properties (including individual duplex units) around the TCU area.

Their redeveloped properties follow a five-bedroom model, with large common areas and top-of-the-line fixtures and appliances with the changing market in mind, said Mark Weimer.

“They’re houses my neighbor would move in to,” said Mark Weimer.

The Weimers can understand why neighbors are upset with new development, especially housing designed only for students. The Weimers have heard some properties have six or seven unrelated tenants, which is illegal by city zoning laws.

“We’ve been disappointed with the upkeep and the care of other developers’ properties,” Natalie Weimer said.

Mark Weimer said the couple got into the market early, but said many outside investors build not just around TCU but also in college towns across the county because off-campus housing is a stable investment, especially since the real estate market crashed in 2008.

The attitude towards the Weimers changed over the years, according to the couple, from ambivalence, to residents not liking their redevelopment to now residents preferring their developments to the alternatives in the area.

“I’ve been told, ‘Man, we wish you were the ones next door,’ by some residents” in comparison with some other investors in the area, Mark Weimer said.

Cookies and crawfish boils: living next to students

When neighbors moved to the TCU area, they were aware of some of the consequences of living next to a university: a little noise on the weekends, traffic during football games and a high concentration of young people. With the expansion of TCU’s enrollment, some neighbors got more than they bargained for.

According to the Fort Worth police call log, there were seven parties or loud music reports and nine parking violations called in during June 2015. In September 2015, when students are settled in, there were nine parties or loud music reports and 32 parking violations called in.

Most residents noted trash, parties and parking as regular issues with student residents.

Martha Jones, a Wabash Avenue resident since 1988 and vice president of the Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood association, recalled an incident years ago with a fraternity crawfish boil next door to her.

At the end of the party, Solo Cups littered the lawn and the discarded crawfish shells on the ground started to smell. Jones took the issue to the university, and the fraternity was confronted.

Because the house is passed down from older to younger fraternity members, Jones gets a knock on her door each time a new group of students moves in. “They tell me that I won’t have to worry about any crawfish,” Jones said, laughing, “and to call them if there are any issues.”

“I was mean for a while,” Jones said. She said she would call the police to report noise or parking violations, but didn’t see much long-term or lasting behavioral change. Now when a student moves in, she introduces herself and gives them her phone number and a batch of cookies.

Despite Jones’ and other neighbors’ actions, some students believe there is a stigma against them in the neighborhoods.

“I think students are overall too loud. This creates a stigma against all students that we are all crazy partiers,” Meg Griffin, senior Spanish and political science major, said.

Griffin said she and her roommates take out the trash on time, keep up their yard and are never too loud.

Griffin lives in an older home in the Bluebonnet Place neighborhood. Older residents surround her and her roommates. They have a good relationship with their neighbors, and even made them cookies, a recurring theme in student-resident relations. The neighbors gave them a plant to welcome them the neighborhood.

“Most of us are responsible, but it’s hard to see that when you have a few houses around TCU that are constantly creating trouble,” Griffin said.

“I would say we were reactive”

Those students combined with continuing development led to the debate over and passage of the TCU Overlay. Debates over how many unrelated people could live in single-family homes were heated, and ended with a compromise. The city passed a zoning ordinance for the area immediately surrounding TCU, lowering the number of unrelated tenants from five to three, attempting to slow redevelopment and curb bad student behavior. The city hoped this would stop more stealth dorms from being built and lead to fewer students living in a single unit. However, existing properties remain unaffected.

Burghdoff said the issues with development around TCU were gradual, as the numerous developers made individual decisions to push the boundaries of legality. By 2013, neighbors called in enough complaints about developers and residents to motivate city council members to have Burghdoff and her staff research a possible solution.

The number of students living off campus increased by about 600 from 2010 to 2012, the same period when resident complaints peaked to move the city to action. In 2013 TCU opened two new residence halls, leveling the rate of growth.

The city reacted to resident complaints with the overlay zoning changes, but for some it was too late.

“The most distressing thing is feeling that we didn’t matter to the university or the city,” Floyd said.

“I would say we were reactive in addressing the overlay and the occupancy of a single-family home,” Burghdoff said.

Cathy Ryan, a resident of Bluebonnet Hills located south of campus since 1984, thinks the overlay is beneficial. “Developers won’t build any more of those giant things,” she said.

The city also addressed issues with student parties. Beginning in October, police stopped issuing warnings and began strictly enforcing (arrests and fines) intoxication, loud noise, traffic and litter violations.

“Our footprint shouldn’t get too much bigger”: TCU solutions

From TCU’s perspective, the growth in students living off campus should be slowing down.

The Board of Trustees capped enrollment at 8,500 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students three years ago, TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini said. “So, our footprint shouldn’t get too much bigger.”

This is all part of the Board of Trustee’s vision to have “100 percent of the students who want to live on campus to be able to live on campus,” Boschini said.

Since 2007, seven residence halls have been built and numerous older halls have been renovated to accommodate more students. The on-campus living requirement expanded to include sophomores in 2007.

TCU modeled this vision after Vanderbilt University, Boschini said. Currently, 95 percent of its students live on campus, and seniors have to apply to live off campus.

Currently, 49 percent of students live on campus. By fall 2018, 60 percent of students should be housed on campus because of the new Greek village, slated to begin construction May 2016, Todd Waldvogel, TCU associate vice chancellor for facilities, said.

In addition to the housing commitment, TCU is also in the process of creating a Good Neighbor Program this semester, with landlords, administrators, neighbors and students all contributing their solutions to improve community relations.

Bagwell said the International Town and Gown Association has seen this trend across the country.

Boschini said he thinks the relationship between TCU and the neighborhoods improved during his time here. He said you can see it in the increase of TCU flags flying outside homes and the number of curbs with house numbers painted purple or decorated with a Horned Frog.

Looking ahead

Burghdoff said the city is expecting and planning for future development around the TCU area.

Fort Worth city council approved the rezoning of four residential lots on West Cantey Street that TCU will use for a proposed fine arts building. The building will replace four houses that currently sit on those lots.

Berry Street will also be updated.

Katy O’Meilia, the senior planner revealed a Berry Street plan February 12.

The plan proposes new biking and pedestrian walkways, diverse housing options, a new storm water draining system and a 27-mile commuter rail system called Tex Rail that stretches from downtown Fort Worth to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

When looking to the future, residents hope the university and the city will hear their voices. In general, they like where they live despite the change and would like to stay there.

“I’m a huge fan of TCU, but I’m a fan more so of the neighborhood,” Floyd said.