Council Report: City raises development fees to encourage more online building applications

Road projects

The city council authorized nearly $22 million in tax increment funding (TIF) for four road projects as part of the North Tarrant Parkway TIF.

Here’s a breakdown of the projects receiving funds:

North Riverside Drive – $6.4 million

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• To reconstruct North Riverside Drive between North Tarrant Parkway and Shiver Road into a four-lane roadway, among other improvements

Tehama Ridge Parkway and Heritage Trace Parkway – $2.5 million

• For the construction of a multi-lane roundabout intersection

Heritage Trace Parkway – $175,000

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• To install a sidewalk along the south side of Heritage Trace Parkway from Interstate 35 to Sage Meadow Trail

Harmon Road – $12.9 million

• Remaining funds will go toward the Harmon Road project between U.S. highway 81/287 frontage road and Golden Triangle Boulevard; the plan is to turn the road into a four-lane divided arterial roadway

City raises development fees to encourage more online building applications

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With the majority of Fort Worth developers submitting building applications on paper, the Fort Worth City Council voted unanimously Aug. 30 to charge a fee for paper applications in an effort to get more developers to submit their plans online.

“We’re taking out the handling of the paper as much as possible,” said Planning and Development Director Randle Harwood.

The city began taking online applications for permits, zoning and platting last year, Harwood said. So far, about 15 percent of developers have opted to take the digital route – not bad for the first year, Harwood said, but the city wants that number to grow.

To discourage paper submissions, the city will charge a $25 fee for paper building permit applications, $50 for paper zoning applications and $50 for paper platting applications. The city will also charge all applicants a new $5 fee to help pay for technology upgrades for the planning and development department. The fees will be effective Oct. 1.

The new fees will bring in an estimated $536,700, which will help pay for technology, additional staffing and operating costs, Harwood said.

The fee increases come as the city faces dramatic growth in development over the past six years. According to city data, 9,974 building permits were issued in fiscal year 2010. In fiscal year 2015, that number jumped to 11,272, with the city projecting to issue 12,026 permits by the end of fiscal year 2016. Plats and right-of-way applications are rising, too, jumping from 297 in fiscal year 2010 to 507 in fiscal year 2015, with 582 applications projected for fiscal year 2016.

“Our intent is to try to have growth pay for growth,” Harwood said. “The things that we do are services primarily to developers or individuals that allow them to have safe buildings and safe infrastructure that goes with that.”

Steven Halliday, partner at Fort Worth-based architecture and planning firm 97w, said he prefers submitting applications online. The city accepts development plans via Accela, a cloud-based program used in more than 2,200 state and local governments worldwide.

The city doesn’t accept everything via Accela. A change of occupancy application, for example, is on paper, Halliday said. Still, he said the online system is generally more efficient, allowing developers to submit plans and then receive back a PDF with notes from city staff.

He said he doesn’t have a problem with the city charging fees for paper applications.

“I think the way we’re going is more in a paperless society, honestly,” Halliday said. “I think that it’s just a function of old technologies and moving into the next way that we transmit information.”

Cherryl Peterman’s company, too, submits applications primarily online. Peterman is the president of Winston Services, a Fort Worth-based third-party building inspection company that helps expedite the permitting process through the city.

She said she sees the city’s move as a step toward a more efficient process, but whether an application is submitted online or on paper, the process will always be complicated by nature.

“Development is not simple,” she said. “By necessity, you have a lot of different people looking at it and touching it in different disciplines. It’s complicated. I don’t know if there’s a way to make it simple.”

Fire Station Park expands

The park next to the Fire Station Community Center in the Near Southside is getting bigger.

The Fort Worth City Council voted unanimously Aug. 30 to acquire 1.35 acres at 1616 Hemphill St. to add to the existing 1.7-acre Fire Station Park, located beside the Fire Station Community Center at 1601 Lipscomb St.

The city acquired the land from Piedmont Hemphill Partners LP for about $1.4 million. Funding came from Southside tax increment financing.

According to a city staff report, the park’s current size “limits the level of programming opportunities that are available,” and a bigger park will help bring more options for activities and programs.

The annual cost to maintain the park will be about $800, according to the report.

Zoning OK for seniors apartments

Plans to build a senior living apartment in North Fort Worth are moving forward as the Fort Worth City Council voted unanimously Aug. 30 to approve zoning for the project.

Property owner Whitehead-Smith Investments Ltd. is working on the apartment project with California-based developer Amtex Housing. The plan is to build a three-story, 160-unit apartment building named the Harmon Senior Villas at 12801 Harmon Road. Construction is expected to begin in early 2017. The property was previously unzoned but was designated multifamily residential after the council’s vote.

The project faced opposition from nearby residents who worried that the building’s height would allow people in the apartment to see into the backyards of the surrounding neighborhoods. The council’s decision requires the developer to plant trees as a buffer between the neighborhoods and the apartment.

Councilman Dennis Shingleton, whose district includes the project, said he doesn’t anticipate any issues because the apartments will be occupied by seniors.

“It’s just giving someone a leg up,” he said. “Doesn’t mean they’re going to be looking into your backyard, looking at your garage, seeing what they can steal. I don’t believe that to be the case.”

The city council had previously approved the annexation of about nine acres of vacant land west of Interstate 35W at Harmon Road and Golden Heights Road to make way for the project.

Council Notes

• Walsh Ranch: The first step in creating a capital public improvement district (PID) for the Walsh Ranch development in west Fort Worth has begun. The city council set a public hearing for the Walsh Ranch capital PID for Sept. 20 and a final vote for Sept. 27. A capital PID is used specifically for large-scale projects. It has the city issue debt that property owners pay off with a special assessment on their property taxes. The proposal for Walsh Ranch is to create a 1,700-acre PID, with the city issuing $30 million in PID bonds to be paid off in 30 years. The proposed assessment for the district is 18 cents per $100 assessed valuation. According to PID Administrator David Reitz, the final terms of the PID will be determined in the next fiscal year.

• TEX Rail: The city council voted to allow the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) to acquire portions of land in Fort Worth totaling about 7.7 acres for its TEX Rail project, using eminent domain if necessary. Some of the land is located at 555 Elm St., 1300 East Fourth St. and 1408 East First St. The TEX Rail is a 27-mile commuter rail line linking downtown Fort Worth, North Richland Hills, Grapevine and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport’s Terminal B. Groundbreaking for the project was on Aug. 24, and the rail line is expected to open in 2018.

• Water rates: Fort Worth residents will see an average increase of $1.20 a month on their water and wastewater bills after the city council approved rate increases that will take effect Jan. 1.

The change affects water and wastewater volume rates, as well as monthly service charges, which are based on meter size. Water rates are determined per 100 cubic feet of usage, equal to 748.1 gallons, and some users will see their rates rise or fall depending on how much water they use. According to a news release, the proposed rates are to “improve revenue stability” for the city’s water department. A list of proposed rates – and how they compare with this year’s rates – can be found on the city’s website: