Fort Worth considers changes to combat “stealth dorms” near TCU

By Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth, moving to combat the growth of what critics call “stealth dorms” around TCU, is considering implementing a university-area overlay that would lower the allowed number of unrelated adults living in a single-family home.

At the same time, Fort Worth also is considering increasing parking requirements citywide for newly built single-family homes with more than three bedrooms.

The proposals, which the city staff is collecting public comment and will brief City Council members on later this summer, are touching off intense debate, with even some proponents worrying whether the change would be enforceable and fair if applied to existing structures. The city staff is proposing to reduce the allowed number of unrelated adults living in an A-1 single-family-zoned home in the TCU area to three from five; neighborhood leaders say the five is unenforceable.

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“How are they going to enforce three when they can’t enforce five?” Paula Traynham, president of the Frisco Heights Neighborhood Association on the eastern edge of the TCU campus, said.

Others want the city to draw TCU, whose growing student enrollment has set off demand for more private off-campus housing, into the debate. The university has said it wants to bring more of its students into on-campus housing; neighborhood leaders wonder what will happen to rental housing geared toward students if TCU draws more of them on campus.

“At least they’re talking about solutions, but we don’t think this is one,” said Genna Banta, who owns several investment properties with her husband Mike, including one four-bedroom home in the overlay area they rent by the room.

“This is going to put a chill on the little guy for something the big guys did,” Banta said. “And it’s not fair. It’s not free-market.”

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The Bantas are on both sides of the issue. Mike Banta is president of the Bluebonnet Place Neighborhood Association, one of the neighborhoods that would be included in the overlay.

The private rental market around TCU already is overbuilt, Mike Banta said.

“Who’s going to rent these structures when there are no students to rent them?” Banta said. Several neighborhood associations have asked the city to move against the growth of multi-bedroom homes in single-family zoning rented by the room. The city has no numbers on how many of the buildings exist in the several neighborhoods that would be included in the overlay: all or parts of Frisco Heights, Bluebonnet Place, Bluebonnet Hills, Paschal, Park Hill, University Place, University West, Westcliff, Westcliff West, Berkeley, Colonial Hills, and Tanglewood.

In some cases, developers have knocked down period cottages and replaced them with the new buildings: five bedrooms with communal kitchen and common metering. Rents range from $500 to more $1,000 per month per bedroom, neighborhood leaders say. Builders have often been common, and the designs similar from one neighborhood to the next.

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In some cases, the developers have provided enough parking on their property. In other cases, parking spills onto the street, neighborhood leaders say.

Mike Banta, who said his one four-bedroom rental in the overlay area was a rehab that retained the architectural flavor, said some of the new houses have more than five unrelated adults living in them.

Some of the plans submitted to the city have included “bonus rooms” that he said were converted to sixth bedrooms.

The proposal to lower the permissible number of unrelated adults is the centerpiece of the staff’s proposal.

The city also is considering whether to have neighborhood associations to opt in, and whether to grandfather properties with more than three bedrooms and a “history of leases to more than three unrelated persons.”

In the citywide parking proposal, which is connected to the TCU-area issue, the city staff is proposing to change parking requirements for new single-family homes of more than three bedrooms to require one more space on the property.

The current requirement is two parking spaces on the property, regardless of the number of bedrooms.

Under the proposal, a four-bedroom home, for example, would require three parking spaces from the current two.

City Council members, in conversations with the staff heading up to the proposal, had said they’d heard complaints in some of their districts about parking.

“The occupancy complaints have generally occurred in the TCU area,” Burghdoff said.

Council members asked the staff to conduct the review, based on complaints they received, Burghdoff said. The issue has also come up during the City Council campaign to replace the District 9 representative Joel Burns; Ann Zadeh and Ed Lasater are in a runoff Saturday for the seat.

On the occupancy issue, the staff has heard complaints from Frisco Heights; Colonial Hills regarding rentals on Alton Road; the Westcliff area; Bluebonnet Hills; Bluebonnet Place; Berkeley; and the Paschal neighborhood, she said.

Most Texas cities have lower allowable numbers of unrelated adults per single-family home, with four being the most typical and then two, Burghdoff said.

On the question of enforceability, “you always have a high percentage of property owners who do comply with the rules,” Burghdoff said. “It would be a matter of degree.”

Frisco Heights has seen four of the large single-family homes recently completed, a small part of the major development pressure Frisco Heights has experienced for years. There are several other properties in the neighborhood that could be vulnerable to redevelopment, given other development such as condominiums near them, Traynham said.

Traynham said the four new homes have adequate parking. On the question of grandfathering, she acknowledged there are differing opinions in her neighborhood.

“I think you have to grandfather what’s here,” she said. “When they built, they built in good faith.”