Two Fort Worth council members propose temporary single-family moratorium around TCU

By Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth is considering implementing a temporary moratorium on the building of single-family homes inside a controversial proposed TCU-area overlay that’s meant to limit the growth of so-called “stealth dorms” in neighborhoods.

Council members W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman and Ann Zadeh on Tuesday asked that the temporary moratorium on new single-family permits be put into place while the city determines what to do with the overlay. Council members will vote Oct. 21 on the moratorium, which would bar the issuance of new permits for A-5-zoned homes, the dominant single-family zoning inside the overlay.

Zimmerman said the moratorium is meant to head off investors who may be trying to rush in applications for permits on new “stealth dorms” – large homes leased by the room to TCU students. The city is considering an overlay that would reduce the number of permissible unrelated adults living in one house to three from five.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

“All we know is we’re seeing some activity in there where investors are buying up some property and trying to get in under the gun,” Zimmerman said in an interview.

The proposed moratorium would take effect immediately for any applications made after the council votes it in, Sarah Fullenwider, the city attorney, said in an interview.

Zimmerman said the wording could allow an avenue of appeal for property owners whose permit applications are turned away.

Fort Worth Zoning Commissioners on Oct. 8 continued until their Nov. 12 meeting taking action on the overlay, opposed by investors, developers, realtors and builders. Council members are now tentatively scheduled to vote Dec. 2.

- Advertisement -

In the interim, city staff members are trying to organize meetings among all the stakeholders in an attempt to reach an agreement.

It’s not clear whether developers and investors are trying to rush in permits under the wire.

Dana Burghdoff, the city’s deputy planning director, said in an interview Tuesday she’s fielded a few inquiries from development groups asking about whether they’d be grandfathered if the council passes the overlay.

“There are folks who are interested and who are active,” Burghdoff said.

- Advertisement -

With the overlay, the staff has proposed three options on how to treat existing properties.

“Stealth dorms” – newly built or converted existing single-family properties in A-5-zoned areas – have proliferated in several neighborhoods around TCU in the last five years. They typically have up to five bedrooms, with multiple baths, a kitchen, and no common area. Homeowners have complained about noise, litter, parking, and damage to historic neighborhoods.

One proposed option for treating existing properties would grandfather all existing properties indefinitely, unless the owner discontinues leasing to more than three unrelated adults or abandons it for at least one year. A second would allow a 15-year grandfathering, until the end of 2029.

The third would all no grandfathering, with a transition period lasting until June 1, 2016.

Investors, developers, realtors and builders are generally opposed to the overlay arguing the reduction in permissible adults infringes on property rights, exposes the city to potential litigaiton, and would simply push “stealth dorms” to permissible areas on the fringes of the overlay. Fort Worth builders have argued that if there is to be an overlay with a reduction in number of permissible adults, it should be citywide.