Developer withdraws controversial TCU-area apartment zoning case

By Scott Nishimura

The developer who lost a unanimous decision by the Fort Worth Zoning Commssion to bar a controversial 175-bedroom apartment development near TCU is withdrawing the case ahead of Tuesday’s City Council vote.

Brent Spear, president of the Bluebonnet Hills Neighborhood Association, confirmed Tuesday his group had sent an email to residents announcing the change.

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It quoted a message from Councilman Joel Burns that said the developer decided “not to make a presentation” to the council Tuesday and would “abide by the zoning commission recommendation.”

Burns confirmed Tuesday he sent the message to the neighborhood associations around the proposed development, but said he did not know whether the developer would proceed with the current zoning, which allows about 125 bedrooms.

Matthew Vruggink, a principal of the developer Ojala Holdings, which has the property on South University Drive under option, could not be immediately reached for comment.

“As it stands, no zoning change will take place,” Spear said in his message.

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He invited residents to a party beginning 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Bottom Bar and Grill of Fort Worth on Blue Bonnet Circle.

“In lieu of attending likely a long City Council meeting…we thought it appropriate to have a bit of a celebration,” Spear said in his note. “Please come and (enjoy) fellowship with others from the neighborhood over food, drinks, or both.”

The Zoning Commission voted May 14 against the zoning change.

Vruggink, in an interview later with The Business Press, said “potentialoy, but unlikely,” in response to whether he would proceed with the current zoning if he lost the City Council vote.

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Ojala has the several lots in the 3220-3248 blocks of South University Drive between West Berry Street and Bluebonnet Circle under option.

Ojala had requested to rezone the property to urban residential.

Commissioner Gaye Reed, who represents the district that includes the proposed development, said she was concerned that the project would be too dense and not have enough parking.

The lots currently have seven largely 1920s and 1930s-era fourplexes containing a total of 28 apartments.

Ojala would have demolished the buildings and replaced them with a building containing about 65 one and two-bedroom apartments containing a total 175 bedrooms. Parking for the complex would be almost entirely in an underground structure, with the city-required one space per bedroom; another 25 spaces for visitors would be outside.

Ojala, in presenting proposed renderings, had said the building would be designed in the town home style the neighborhood wants, with street-friendly improvements like benches, bike racks, and landscaping.

“It would seem to further walkable density; that is a definition of urban village,” Vruggink said in the interview after the Zoning Commission’s vote.

The neighborhoods, however, argued the building is too big and will house too many people. It would push traffic and visitor parking into the neighborhoods like Bluebonnet Hills, they said, even though the developer designed access only to and from South University.

The developer designed the building with a main street-level common entry, instead of individual entrances for each of the units, and critics also said much tenant flow will be through the building’s parking garage.

Neighborhood leaders said those design features will detract from the pedestrian street traffic that’s critical in linking the Berry/University and Bluebonnet Circle urban villages along South University. Fort Worth’s urban village plans call for dense, multiple-use, pedestrian-and transit-friendly development.

“While we understand there will be development and it will be denser in nature, we still want it to have a residential feel,” Sandra Dennehy, chair of the Berry Street Initiative, said in an interview after the zoning vote.

Neighborhood leaders also feare the property will be aimed largely at TCU students, while the university continues to move toward building more on-campus housing.In the same vein, developers continue to build five-bedroom homes aimed at TCU students in the area around TCU.

“All those single-family, five-bedroom homes are going to be vacant” as TCU builds more housing, Dennehy said. “Then what do you do to them? The whole neighborhood goes into decline.”

The developer had made concessions. Barry Hudson, representing Dunaway Associates, the Fort Worth engineering and landscape architecture firm working on the project, told the Zoning Commission the developer has added 12 street-level pedestrian access points, with entry stoops, porches, and planting areas.

Three of those 12 would provide access to multiple units, and the other nine would provide access to individual apartments, Hudson said.