City to approve Westcliff rezoning, tackle loopholes that allow “stealth dorms”

By Kayley Ryan

Rezoning for streets in the Westcliff neighborhood
like Rashti Court could prevent future duplex
developments.(Photo by Kayley Ryan)

The TCU overlay, which restricts the number of unrelated people who can live in single-family homes near the university, isn’t enough for many people in the Westcliff and Westcliff West neighborhoods.

Residents there said they are still plagued with parties, noise and congested parking, as duplexes and multiplexes have become the latest “stealth dorms.”

The greatest concern for residents is not traditional duplexes, but duplexes targeted at college students, said councilwoman Ann Zadeh, who served on the city’s zoning commission for six years.

“When you get into these five-bedroom, five-bath, I think you’re moving toward more of a dorm-like product that has a greater impact on the surrounding neighborhood,” she said.

Councilman Brian Byrd is pushing a plan to slow the development of these duplexes and multiplexes that’s expected to go before the zoning commission March 14 and city council  April 3.

The proposal would ensure that most single-family homes in the Westcliff area are on lots with corresponding zoning.

Developers have been using zoning dating back to 1940 to tear down single-family homes and erect duplexes, said Beth Knight, senior planner for Fort Worth’s city planning and development.

“When [city zoning] was put in place in 1940, there was already this standard setup of the main house and then a standard house in the back for the help,” Knight told residents at a Westcliff meeting Nov. 22. “[The city] set up duplex zoning or B-zoning to accommodate that in large swaths, entire neighborhoods.”

The rezoning will only affect further development, not uproot current duplexes or multiplexes, Knight said.

“We have the full expectation that your neighborhood, absent stealth dorms and all that other stuff, would have remained single-family zoned uses,” Knight told residents at the meeting.

Parties, noise and parking

The duplexes and multiplexes act like “stealth dorms,” attracting more college students and college parties that can disrupt neighbors past 10 p.m., said Loren Baxter, president of the Westcliff West Neighborhood Association.

Fort Worth requires neighbors to keep their noise level at 60 decibels, or the volume of a normal conversation, between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Sandra Soria, who’s lived in Westcliff West almost 20 years, said she’s called the police to handle noise violations at a nearby duplex that has housed students from the same fraternity for years.

Soria said cars lining the streets during parties obstruct her view.

“I can’t see when I pull out of my driveway because it’s wall-to-wall cars,” she said.

Westcliff resident Kenneth Hawley said he’s picked up beer cans from his front yard after college parties. He lives near college students who host parties in their single-family houses.

“I’m a pretty tolerant guy,” Hawley said. “But the next day when I’m picking up beer cans in my yard and bottles and McDonald’s and all that other trash, I draw the line.”

TCU housing director Craig Allen said he has heard complaints ranging from students vomiting in bushes to urinating on lawns.

“I can remember one where a neighbor had an elderly parent, and they couldn’t even get their parent to the sidewalk because the students had parked right in front of the sidewalk of the other house,” he said.

Single-family feel

The corner lot on Carolyn Road and South Hills
Drive is currently C-zoned, meaning it can be
developed into a duplex or a multiplex.
(Photo by Kayley Ryan)

Residents don’t want the neighborhood to lose its single-family atmosphere.

Developers have bought more than 30 B-zoned lots in the neighborhood, Byrd said.

“I’m sympathetic with the homeowners who have been there for decades and don’t want to see their neighborhood disaffected,” he said.

Soria said she and her partner like to sit on their back porch in the evening.

“Our back porch faces the roof of these people, so when they’re on the roof, it’s like we don’t have any privacy in our yard,” she said.

Westcliff resident Joy Brooks, a mother of two, lives across the street from a duplex and hasn’t had any problems with it.

But she does want to maintain the family-friendly character of the neighborhood so her kids will continue to have a “safe and respectful” environment.

“There’s a difference between a family raising a child and a college student going to TCU,” she said. “I’m all for growth, but still there’s no reason to destroy a bunch of old neighborhoods.”

TCU Overlay only solves one problem

The city adopted the TCU Overlay in 2014 to maintain the neighborhoods’ single-family character.

It only allows three unrelated occupants in a single-family home, down from five.

But five unrelated occupants can live in a duplex or multiplex.

The Westcliff neighborhood has 94 lots zoned for duplexes and 32 zoned for multiplexes, according to documents Knight shared at the November meeting.

But most of those lots have single-family homes on them, Knight said.

Byrd said he heard no opposition to the proposed zoning change.

Below is a side-by-side comparison of current zoning and proposed zoning in the Westcliff area, the latest plans Fort Worth Planning and Development shared with the city council on Jan. 30.

TCU Housing: a space issue

Allen said TCU can only build so many dormitories for so many students.

“I think if you look at the history of TCU maybe over the last 10 or 15 years, you would see that we’ve acquired a significant amount of property, especially on the east side of our campus,” he said.

The “Campus Commons” is the largest portion of
green space among dormitories at TCU.
(Photo by Kayley Ryan)

Some property TCU owns won’t be converted to housing because it’s being used as parking spaces or green space in the “Campus Commons.”

“We’re clearly not going to build in the middle of the Commons,” he said. “We’re not going to build on the baseball field.”

The university is building new housing for 300 students that won’t open until fall of 2019, but that takes time, Allen said.

“What happens is these little property developers that are buying up lots here and there, they can move much faster,” he said. “They can buy a lot tomorrow and have something up in four months. We can’t build that fast.”

In 2006, TCU had about 7,600 undergraduate students with about 3,000 living off campus, he said.

Now, TCU has 8,900 undergraduate students with about 4,700 living off campus.

Brownies and silence

Residents at the November Westcliff neighborhood meeting said they are encouraged by TCU’s Neighbor to Neighbor program, a partnership with the city to educate students on their responsibilities as neighbors.

Allen said TCU works with neighborhood associations if there are students who are not being “good neighbors.”

“[Residents] know they have a direct line to the campus office,” he said.

But residents like Hawley recognize that TCU can’t address every issue or complaint.

“At the end of the day, this is ultimately an off-campus issue,” Hawley said.

Sandra Soria (Courtesy of Sandra Soria)

Soria said she’s seen a change in the fraternity brothers living near her.

She introduced herself one morning with a plate of brownies in hand: “I’m your neighbor, and I wanted to bring you these brownies. And I wanted to let you know that we don’t mind parties in our neighborhood, but we’d really like it if after 11 o’clock you’d take it inside.”

The fraternity held a party the next weekend.

“Sure enough, at 11 o’clock: dead silence,” she said. “They apparently had paid attention, and we appreciated that.”