Zoning grabs students by the wallet

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    The City of Fort Worth has invited the public to comment at 7 p.m. today right here at the Kelly Alumni Center on a growing controversy affecting students. The issues concern everyone in Fort Worth, but TCU students have special reason to attend.Swords will cross over several proposed changes to the city’s zoning ordinance. Most punitive to TCU students, if implemented, would be the city-wide reduction in the number of unrelated persons permitted to live together on a property lot zoned with an A classification, as well as the rezoning of University Place neighborhood to A-5 or “single-family” status, which would make it more difficult for tenants to lease in the TCU area.

    The effect? Students who enjoy the decades-old practice of renting near our university would find arranging leases far more impractical and problematic.

    University Place is the residential block just north of campus. Some of its residents who favor the zoning change have spoken quite haughty words against students.

    At the Sept. 14 zoning meeting discussing the change, University Place resident Katherine Blair said the University Christian Church hopes to tear down a building and replace it with either a parking lot or student housing, which advocates of the rezoning also don’t want, Blair said. Then she added: “But better parking lots than students.” Don Houk, senior director of operations at UCC, has since noted that the church has never sought to house TCU students.

    When my neighbor learned TCU students would rent another house on our street, he exclaimed, “Shit!” and stomped his feet. Gesturing to the western side of University Drive, he explained that TCU students ruin neighborhoods. However, he told me, he would rent to Brite Divinity students, since “they’re the only ones I trust.”

    Prompted by neighborhoods across Fort Worth expressing concerns about, among other complaints, loud parties, decreasing home values and houses with an “excessive number of tenants and related guests,” the city’s Unrelated Persons & Renters’ Registration Task Force discussed strategies to cut down on the number of unrelated persons it will allow to live together in residential neighborhoods. That number currently stands at five to each house; the Supreme Court has upheld cities reducing the number all the way down to two to each house.

    If the City Council accepts the Task Force’s recommendations for the zoning ordinance, individuals not related by blood, adoption or marriage could no longer live together in groups higher than the new number the city deems (two, three or four). This change could easily increase off-campus housing costs and make living with friends more difficult.

    According to a handout given by the City of Fort Worth’s Planning Department, City Councilwoman Wendy Davis has proposed a “text amendment” to the City’s Zoning Ordinance for “A-5” zoned lots (among others). Many properties around TCU have garage apartments where students live; her amendment would only allow five unrelated persons per lot instead of five in each building per lot.

    Again, with the allowed number of unrelated tenants allowed reduced, rent would rise and off-campus students would face difficulties planning group living arrangements for groups.

    These three proposed changes – rezoning University Place, reducing the number of unrelated persons permitted to live together, and the text amendment – harm TCU students. Since by City charter the latter two changes must take place citywide, others outside University Place also risk seeing living arrangements fall apart: Non-TCU individuals rooming together to save housing costs and, according to Fernando Costa, Planning Director for Fort Worth, the disabled who live together in “personal care homes” to assist one another.

    Right now the battle is being fought only by a few: landlords, people with garage apartments and neighborhood associations, but these are community issues. It’s not fair that responsible landlords and law-abiding students suffer for the misdeeds of other landlords and students – that’s discrimination by matriculation status. Students need to make their presence known before it is too late. If you cannot make the public meeting tonight, the city will hold another meeting on these proposed zoning ordinance changes at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 in the Deborah Beggs Moncrief Garden Center at the Botanic Garden.

    Douglas Lucas is a senior English and philosophy major from Fort Worth.