Fort Worth Council to consider Como neighborhood empowerment zone at Sept. 19 meeting

A plan to revitalize the Como neighborhood area in Fort Worth will likely go to a vote at the Sept. 19 council meeting.

In the pre-council session Tuesday, the Fort Worth City Council received an informal report on the proposed adoption of the Como/Sunset Heights Neighborhood Empowerment Zone (NEZ) Strategic Plan. The NEZ projects promote the creation or rehabilitation of affordable housing, an increase in economic development, and an increase in the quality of social services, education, or public safety provided to residents of the designated neighborhoods.

“The Como Neighborhood Empowerment Zone has been a critical tool for continuing to revitalize the Como area with single-family home development,” said District 3 Council Member Brian Byrd. “Moving forward, it our desire to see the NEZ used to spur commercial economic development in the heart of Como and Sunset Heights, including Horne Street.”

Public hearings were held on Aug. 3 and 23 concerning the plan. A resolution for the plan is expected to be on the council’s Sept. 19 agenda.

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Since late 2014, Como stakeholders have participated in a planning process that included two workshops, seven public meetings, surveys and polling, and 18 advisory committee meetings. The advisory committee, comprised of the officers of the Como Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) and other Como residents, helped identify and refine the goals and recommendations of the plan.

“The plan provides a guide for the revitalization of the Como/Sunset Heights Neighborhood Empowerment Zone,” said Randle Harwood, director planning and development. “It seeks to identify strategies and partnerships that will enable the growth of small business and enhance and diversify the housing stock in a way that seeks to respect the history and heritage of the neighborhood while looking forward to a diverse and promising future.”

The plan’s five goals and strategies include:

*Development

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Goal: Amend the city’s Future Land Use map to apply the recommended designations in order to guide future development. Adopt and apply NEZ Design Guidelines (Appendix A) to ensure that NEZ benefits support projects that improve the community.

Strategies: (1) Apply the Urban Residential Future Land Use designation in target locations to facilitate walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed density residential development that provides a range of housing choices. (2) Expand the Mixed-Use Future Land Use designation to facilitate higher density, mixed-use development along the northern section of Horne Street. (3) Expand the Neighborhood Commercial Future Land Use designation to accommodate additional neighborhood-serving retail and commercial businesses along the northern to mid-section of Horne Street. (4) Apply design guidelines for new development and substantial redevelopment projects that address the following categories: Setbacks and yards, building massing and scale, site design and landscaping, driveways and garages, roofs and windows, porches and entries.

*Housing

Goal: Improve the housing stock in the Como neighborhood by developing quality new affordable and market rate single-family infill housing, as well as limited higher density mixed-income housing in target locations; stabilize and rehabilitate the existing housing stock.

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Strategies: (1) Build quality new affordable and market rate single-family infill housing on vacant lots. (2) Provide housing choice opportunities with higher density well-designed townhomes, apartments, and condominiums in target locations. (3) Provide housing support (rehabilitation and foreclosure prevention) to existing homeowners. (4) Establish public/private partnerships to achieve housing production and intervention targets over the next 20 years.

*Neighborhood-Focused Economic Development

Goal: Develop Horne Street into a vibrant business district with new neighborhood-serving re-tail and commercial businesses, and strengthen existing businesses.

Strategies: (1) Redevelop and revitalize the Horne Street corridor by implementing infrastructure improvements within the public right-of-way and stimulating land use changes and building redevelopment. (2) Develop a small business recruitment and support program. (3) Develop an entrepreneurial development and support program. (4) Establish a business/merchant association.

*Livability Enhancements

Goal: Establish comprehensive programs and initiatives for livability enhancements in the Como neighborhood.

Strategies: (1) Enhance public parkland. (2) Promote transportation connectivity, safety, and mobility choice. (3) Undertake public infrastructure investments in a timely manner. (4) Utilize research-based public safety prevention strategies to reduce crime and code violations. (5) Establish an adult job training and workforce development program. (6) Establish a coalition of appropriate organizations/agencies to focus on poverty reduction. (7) Undertake programs and initiatives to protect, capture, and showcase the heritage of the Como neighborhood.

*Capacity Building

Goal: The Como community will have the capacity to be an engaged and effective partner in its revitalization, which shall be supported and guided by benchmarks, measures, and an implementation schedule.

Strategies: (1) Expand the committee structure of the Como NAC to work directly on revitalization goals. (2) Develop public/private partnerships between the Como NAC and public and private organi-zations to assist with selected revitalization strategies. (3) Establish a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit Community-Based Organization (CBO) to undertake fund raising, etc. for revitalization projects and programs.

Among the attributes the Como area has to offer noted in the strategic plan’s executive summary are its close proximity to major employment centers and cultural attractions, numerous vacant lots that are suitable for quality affordable and market rate infill housing and new commercial development, and an active and engaged neighborhood association.