TCU and the community, match made in heaven…most of the time

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    When TCU moved to Fort Worth it was a fledgling university of less than 500 students in a city of 73,000. In the century since, the two have grown hand-in-hand to more than 9,000 students in a city of almost a quarter-million people.

    Rocky Deutscher has lived in the TCU community for more than 20 years. Her husband recently retired from the university and the couple is very active at the university and with their neighborhood association in University West.

    Deutscher said the area is a great place to live in and she wouldn’t trade it, but the university does have a large footprint in the community.

    There are positives and negatives for a community where quality of life is sometimes tied to the institution. The issues can best described as the good, the bad and a little bit of ugly.

    From the real estate market to the day’s receipts at an area bakery, the relationship between community and university is mutually beneficial in a lot of ways. They need us and we need them.

    REAL ESTATE

    Sharon Mays is an alumna, a lifelong resident of the area and owner of Mays Realty Group on Forest Park Boulevard. She makes it her business to know the history and the future of the TCU area.

    Mays said the neighborhoods are desirable to a diverse group of people for different reasons, but mostly location and community.

    “Tanglewood Elementary is a big draw and really Paschal High School is as well,” she said. “The architectural style in the neighborhoods is very attractive to a lot of people and the proximity to the cultural district and downtown.”

    But one of the best perks for Mays is being close enough to the university to be involved.

    “We love being able to ride our bike up to campus,” she said. “We enjoy really top-notch concerts and guest speakers, sporting events and plays. It’s all going on right here and a lot of it is free.”

    Most frequently she sells to young families, university professors and older couples with grown children who are downsizing, but a growth market is TCU parents who are purchasing homes for their students in the neighborhoods near campus. And the amount that parents are willing to spend has doubled in recent years to an average of around $300,000, she said.

    “It’s not like it used to be when I went off to college,” she said. “We were ecstatic to have a dumpy garage apartment, just to be out on our own.”

    She said it’s a wise investment for parents though, because they save on room and board to the university and the students often take in rent-paying roommates who offset the cost to the family.

    “Another factor is that the rental market around the campus is just not good,” she said. “With the exception of some of the newly built rentals near TCU, a lot of the properties are just not kept up very well and students don’t want to settle for that.”

    BUSINESS

    Total enrollment at the university this year is the highest ever at 9,142. There are approximately 1,825 employees and 523 full-time faculty members who come and go every week8212;and every one of them has to eat.

    At Dutch’s Hamburgers on University Drive the walls are covered with TCU memorabilia and the chairs are filled with students, faculty and alumni.

    General manager Kay Greenlee said around 60 percent of their business comes from the university.

    Greenlee knows a lot of her customers by name. She has bonded with a lot of students, many of whom continue to stop by after graduation.

    “The relationships I’ve built in this community have been life-changing,” she said. “Like, I know every week what day the football guys are coming in and I look forward to it8212;getting to visit with them.”

    The only bad thing about having your business tied to the university is the summer, she said, when Dutch’s sees a dramatic drop in sales.

    But Grant SantaCruz, operations manager of The Mellow Mushroom on Bluebonnet Circle, said even though the business model for the franchise calls for it to be built in close proximity to a university, the restaurant actually does more business during the summer.

    “Probably a good 50 percent of our business is neighborhood and maybe 15 to 20 percent university 8212; but a lot of that is faculty,” he said.

    But the restaurant’s biggest nights in sales have always been game nights, and the last three football games at Amon G. Carter Stadium have been their biggest nights ever.

    Katy Neely, manager of McKinley’s Fine Bakery and Café in University Park Village, said in the four years since owner Stacey Rumfeld made the switch from being a franchise owner of a Celebrity café to the current establishment, business has grown and expanded beyond the university crowd.

    “I think students might represent around 20 or 25 percent of our business right now,” she said. “We used to see a significant drop in sales over the summer months, but that really is not the case anymore.”

    Neely said word of mouth has brought in a lot of neighborhood business but the university culture is still a big part of their identity.

    “We love it here, love the people 8212; the area,” she said. “We build relationships with our regulars and with the students. It’s especially fun when their mom comes to visit and they have to bring her by to check out their favorite spots and we get to meet them too.”

    Among the rows of decadent pies and cupcakes are TCU football-shaped cookies and the majority of the employees who work the front counter are students.

    Businesses and Real Estate agents couldn’t be happier with the arrangement and the big draw for a lot of people is the positive energy that the university puts off. But for all the things that 109 residents love about sharing their neighborhood with the school and its students, there are some drawbacks.

    Students serve as ambassadors of the university and depending on the individual, can portray a really positive8212;or a really negative impression of the student body.

    PARKING

    Flip through the archives of the TCU Daily Skiff for any given semester over the past decade and there will undoubtedly be an opinion column, or two8212;or 10 about how frustrating it can be to find any parking spot, much less a convenient one that is safe from ticketing at the university.

    But parking is sometimes just as frustrating for residents who share the streets with students every day and alumni and fans during games and special events.

    DeAnn Jones, who handles parking and transportation for the TCU Police, said the university currently has around 8,700 parking spots on campus in total, but the number fluctuates as construction and expansions continue across campus. Stadium renovations took more than 900 parking spots out of commission.

    Even though there are more than 11,000 students, faculty and staff at the university, Jones said only around 8,000 permits have been sold this year and some of those permits may be duplicates because some parkers have purchased new cars and so the original permit is no longer valid.

    She said there are around 950 reserved faculty/staff spaces and more than 5,000 commuter and non-reserved faculty/staff spaces. The remaining spots are designated for visitors, loading zones, maintenance and handicap.

    On class days the streets closest the university are lined with cars. But the real challenge comes on game days and increasingly so as the popularity and success of TCU athletics continues to grow.

    The Utah game on November 14, 2009 drew more than 50,000 people.

    Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs, said residents have a legitimate concern but there are only six home football games per season and the city puts up parking signs wherever the neighborhood associations ask.

    But Ann Zadeh, a resident of Bluebonnet Hills, said the signs, which she believes are purchased and installed with tax payer funds, are too few and far between. She said her neighborhood association was told that the city couldn’t afford to put out as many signs as were needed.

    “I couldn’t help but think that the university should be paying for some of that, since they are the one profiting off of the games,” Zadeh said.

    Sometimes, she said, residents find their driveways blocked by a parked car and there doesn’t seem to be any uniformity to the restrictions around the university. Sometimes the differences are appropriate but it can also be confusing, she said.

    Mills said that the university has “zero role” in regulating parking on city streets, but when asked to participate in planning, as university officials were with the installation of meters on West Bowie and the move to prevent students from parking in front of businesses on Cockrell Street, they try to be helpful.

    PARTYING

    According to TCU’s Office of Institutional Research, 49.8 percent of full-time undergraduate students (a total of 3,791 students) live on campus. That leaves more than 5,300 graduate and undergraduate students living in the communities around the university. Almost 85 percent of TCU students are under the age of 25.

    When college students and families try to share a block sometimes the lifestyles don’t coincide.

    Mills said the university has taken steps to ensure that more students are living on campus. With the exception of a small number of non-traditional students and students who live nearby with a parent or guardian, all full-time freshman and sophomore students are required to live on campus.

    In 2007 and 2008 the university opened four new residence halls on campus at a cost of more than $46 million. But other campus renovations and the transformation of some dorms into office space meant the total number of students who are living on campus has only risen by 635 since the fall of 2005, and the number of TCU students living off-campus has risen by 1,336 in the same time period.

    Zadeh said a lot of families in the area are not thrilled about TCU parents purchasing homes for students and she believes some students are finding a way around the on-campus requirements for freshmen and sophomores.

    The home next to hers was purchased by a parent for a female TCU student, who shared the home with several roommates throughout her time at the university. She said there were parties, but they never got too loud or out of control.

    “It just depends on who the students are,” Zadeh said. “Girls, I think, tend to be more respectful than boys. I have friends who have lived next to a house full of male students and it did not go nearly as well.”

    Zadeh said there have been issues with beer cans in yards and babies being woken up in the night that have soured some residents from sharing their neighborhood with students.

    NEIGHBORHOODS

    Residents like Charlie Murphy, for example.

    Murphy lives on a quiet street in the Arlington Heights area where the houses range from around $150,000 to $400,000.

    When the house next door to him went up for lease he didn’t know what to expect but when he met his new neighbor he was initially relieved.

    The young woman told Murphy that she was graduating from the university and wanted to move a little farther away so she could get some peace and quiet.

    But about a week after she moved in, Murphy said, the parties began. The woman’s driveway, which was right outside Murphy’s bedroom window, was a happening place on any given night around 2 a.m.

    Blaring music, slamming doors and laughing often woke him. When he tried to talk to the new neighbor about it, he said it only got worse.

    “I actually thought I was going to have to try and sell my house,” Murphy said. “It was the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve ever had in more than 35 years of being a homeowner.”

    Mills said that even students who live off-campus are subject to discipline and the university does not tolerate bad citizenship in its students.

    “I don’t blame them for being frustrated, but I want to quickly point out that it is a small minority of students who behave this way,” Mills said. “It’s not the norm.”

    A big source of contention between the community and the university developed several years ago as Chesapeake Energy began preparations to develop the minerals under the university.

    The proposed well site, a parking lot north of the stadium, received three drilling permits from the Texas Railroad Commission in November of 2007.

    But in order to proceed with the drilling, Chesapeake needed a special high-impact permit from the city because the wells would be within 600 feet of forty houses.

    Chesapeake was never able to get all the required waivers and there was significant opposition from prominent members of the community.

    Further complicating the issue, the pipeline plans also required approval by the city council because the lines would cross under city streets. The council declined to approve the permit for the pipeline unless the well site was first approved, which brought the process to a standstill.

    In July 2008, Texas Midstream Gas Services LLC (now Chesapeake Midstream LP) bought and bulldozed two homes near campus to make way for the pipeline that had still not been approved.

    A number of neighborhood associations came together in an alliance that was led by Greg Hughes, a TCU alumnus who lives in the shadow of the university.

    Hughes said he thought Midstream and Chesapeake were trying to pave the way to an eminent domain claim, but the companies may have underestimated what a public relations issue it would become.

    “To come into a neighborhood with bulldozers and level a family home like that 8212; it’s a pretty destructive attitude,” he said.

    Mills said the university held town hall meetings and were very open to community input.

    “The university didn’t tear down any houses,” he said. “We worked with Chesapeake, the city and the community and we took the neighborhood’s concerns seriously.”

    In early 2009, more than a year after the initial permits were granted by the Texas Railroad Commission, Chesapeake was still unable to gain permission from the city to drill the well or lay the pipeline from the site.

    The company proposed a plan in which it would withdraw the permit application for the TCU well site only if the city would approve a master plan for the entire area.

    The plan included a total of 90 wells to be drilled on seven well sites, four of them new. Three of the sites required high-impact permits because they were less than 600 feet from a number of homes and businesses, and not all of the property owners had signed the required waiver. Some of those who did told the city council they had been misled.

    In the end the city approved the Chesapeake plan and community and university officials publicly praised the outcome.

    “I think the well was a good example of what happens when people are involved in the process,” Mills said. “Drilling was going to bring a significant financial benefit to the university, but there were a lot of concerns in the neighborhood and it became clear that there was not a way to work it out that was going to make everyone happy.”

    But some of the residents who were involved in the fight lost faith in the university and Mills said it was brought up by a neighborhood resident again during a recent town hall meeting about the stadium renovations.

    “A gentleman made the comment that we weren’t going to listen to them because we hadn’t listened to them about the drilling plans,” Mills said. “But someone else asked him, “did they drill the well?’ and he said “well, no.’ So we did listen.”

    Mills said there is a natural concern in communities that the largest institution in an area is intent on imposing its will on others, but the university does try to engage the community and give residents a voice. But that’s not to say university officials will always agree.