A moratorium on new apartments? Some Fort Worth city leaders think the city’s oversaturated
As Fort Worth’s population grows, a group of city councilors are calling for a moratorium on some new housing developments, citing concerns that the city is saturated with apartment buildings.
The crux of the matter is whether Fort Worth has jeopardized future commercial growth by giving in to developers requesting housing reallocations.
Alderman Dennis Shingleton at a recent working session called on the city council to block new zoning changes that would allow apartments and townhouses on lots that are not currently designated for dense housing. Councilors Gyna Bivens and Jungus Jordan worked with him to ask city officials to investigate the number of multi-family developments in Fort Worth and determine whether land reallocation is in the best interests of the city’s long-term plan.
“When is enough enough?” Shingleton recently asked during an interview with the Fort Worth Star Telegram. “I don’t want a flood of apartments, but I don’t want too few of them either.”
The concern mimics fear residents and councilors voiced almost a year ago before the coronavirus pandemic. North Fort Worth residents worried that the city’s growth was outpacing road projects, while Bivens wondered if Fort Worth had been too careless about its development.
City planners analyze the ratio of single-family to multi-family houses from the 1990s as well as the ratio of employment to residential units in job centers, said deputy city manager Dana Burghdoff. She expects to update the council of the analysis and take a look at the Fort Worth population projections through 2045 during a February 9 retreat.
Shingleton said he was concerned that developers with plans for commercial ventures like a grocery store or some other type of retail store were not pushing the coronavirus pandemic to curb personal shopping and dining businesses. These developers may see apartment complexes as a quick way to make a profit on vacant land, he said, but he doesn’t believe this is wise for the health of Fort Worth’s growing suburban neighborhoods.
Shingleton represents the fast growing far north, where residents have complained that many two-lane roads have not been modernized to cope with the increased traffic. The city council said more apartment complexes would clog the streets faster and put further strain on the infrastructure.
A landowner recently came to Shingleton with a request to convert a property near the corner of Willow Springs and Bonds Ranch Road into an apartment complex. There have been discussions about developing the property into an HEB, central market, or other grocery store, he said.
Shingleton said no to the zoning change.
“I’m not at war with them; I’m a developer, ”Shingleton said, adding that he wants developers to stick to the city’s overall plan. “If it’s a commercial zone, it’ll stay commercial until I know how many apartments we need.”
Bivens, who represents East Fort Worth, said she agreed. Increasing housing density in areas outside of services like bus routes and grocery stores could do more harm than good, she said. She said she would like the city zoning staff and city council to look more critically at zoning changes.
“I tell developers when they look at District 5. If you buy real estate and build what they’re zoned for, you won’t have any problems with constituents,” Bivens said. “It’s if you want to change it into something that’s disrupting life, you know how people know, that’s where the attrition comes from.”
Between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020, the city allowed 484 new homes for a total of nearly 7,000 new units across the city, according to the city’s development services department. It is unclear how many of these buildings are on land that was previously intended for something other than apartment buildings.
During the same period, 8,058 new residential units were also registered, including 6,377 new single-family homes and 112 townhouses.
Though staff have not completed the Fort Worth housing survey, the city’s long-term plan provides for denser housing in the form of single-family homes and apartments near key employment offices such as the Alliance area in the Shingleton district.
Burghdoff said the planning department did not have enough staff to ensure that all of Fort Worth’s 350 square miles are in line with the comprehensive plan. Some bags may have stale zones or the zones may need to evolve with market demands, she said.
Between 80% and 85% of the changes to the zones approved by the council are in line with the comprehensive plan, which Burghdoff described as a guide, not a regulation or legal obligation.
“I think if we agree 95% or 99%, it almost becomes a regulatory document that it shouldn’t be,” she said.
Rusty Fuller, president of the North Fort Worth Alliance, a group of homeowners associations and neighborhoods, said he had doubts that the annual permit report fully captures the number of residential units planned in the north.
The North Fort Worth Alliance investigated homes in an area between Interstate 35W bounded by Golden Triangle Boulevard to the north, North Tarrant Parkway to the south, Riverside Drive to the east, and Harmon Road to the west.
According to Fuller, almost 4,000 residential units are under construction in the roughly 4 square mile zone. Three proposals that require a reallocation envisage that a further 1,764 units will be built in the coming years. Much of that land is currently zoned for commercial use, he said.
Fuller said his association reached out to the city with three questions: Are apartments the best use for commercial space? Should they focus on one area? And if so, what will the city do to ensure that the complexes are kept to a high standard?
In addition to the congestion, Fuller said his club was concerned that apartment complex owners and tenants were not maintaining real estate as well as nearby single-family homes in homeowners’ associations.
“There’s nothing to keep track of the tenant or the complex, so to speak, to keep things up to date other than economics,” said Fuller, later adding that a high concentration of apartments in one area leads to vacancies and later to demolished apartments can lead.
The neighborhoods in the booming far north are not alone when it comes to housing.
The John T. White neighborhood remains one of the last remaining areas of quasi-rural life in the Fort Worth Far East. The area south of the Trinity River west of Arlington is known for large lots and old oak trees, some of which are more than 100 years old, said Dave Fulson, director of the neighborhood association and a de facto spokesperson for the community.
Fulson said longtime residents are concerned that the housing boom will ruin John T White’s unique feel. In 2018, residents accused two major developers – DR Horton and LGI Homes – of cutting down trees and causing flash floods, particularly along Randol Mill Road.
In an area south of the river and north of Interstate 30 between Cooks Lane and Randol Mill Road, there are around 1,800 residential units and 165 townhouses, according to Fulson. Hundreds of single-family homes are also being built in the same area.
While the density could threaten the land feel in Fort Worth’s Far East, the John T White neighborhood would like developers to consider commercial uses that would bring a mix of restaurants, retail, and housing.
“We have all the housing we need and we’re going to fight like hell to keep that rural feel to it,” said Fulson. “We have overstretched our utilities and our roads. We are just oversaturated with development. “
Luke Ranker, Fort Worth Star Telegram (TNS)