Zoning issues affect students’ rights

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    The City of Fort Worth held a meeting Wednesday to hear citizens’ concerns about zoning issues affecting, among others, TCU students. The meeting was conversely heated and reserved at the same time. Reserved in that open discussion of a controversial issue separates American government from, say, Cuban dictatorship.But heated in that we heard reports of flying potatoes launched into residential property by TCU students using PVC-pipe weaponry. We heard stories of suffering residents selling their homes out of desperation specifically to escape our school’s students since the police would not respond appropriately. We heard from citizen Thomas Riche that neighborhoods seem to be descending into complete civil unrest: People left with “no recourse whatsoever for what transpires” as a result of TCU troublemakers.

    From the way some speak, one might think we are in the midst of a full-scale war.

    Yet we heard reports of peace, too. Michael Banta, a landlord who rents homes in the University Place neighborhood, told the city and the crowd that he gives his telephone number to the neighbors of his student tenants, all of whom have signed a formidable lease barring misbehavior by threat of eviction. Not a single neighbor has called him.

    Valerie Cole said she has rented to more than 100 TCU students across the past 15 years and has had one complaint from a neighbor about her student tenants. She forwarded it to Don Mills, vice chancellor of Student Affairs. The problem disappeared. Immediately. Permanently.

    I don’t know the entire story of student misbehavior in Fort Worth, but much of the discussion has turned to fears concerning how students might someday hurt a neighborhood. Rather than speculate on the hypothetical actions of nameless students, I put on my Hans Blix cap and searched for undeniable evidence of University Place students’ mass destruction.

    I requested five years’ worth of data from the City of Fort Worth’s Records and Information Management Office concerning the neighborhood.

    The Uniform Crime Report for the neighborhood shows, setting aside parking tickets, an average of less than five crimes a year associated with behavior commonly ascribed to students (specifically, vandalism, drunkenness, disorderly conduct and drug abuse). These are not just student crimes – anyone could have committed them – the homeless, TCU students, residents supporting the proposed zoning changes, etc.

    The Fort Worth Police Radio Call History lists, over roughly the same five-year period, an average of only two calls a year from University Place residents with complaints most likely stemming from students (parties, loud music and so forth).

    And from Jan. 1, 2000 to Oct. 11, 2005, there was but one citation for a noise ordinance violation – over a barking dog.

    That’s scant justification for rezoning the University Place neighborhood.

    The proposed changes are an overwrought reaction to basic problems of human interaction. Instead of next-door neighbors building up respect and rapport with one another, we are watching citizens beg for new laws to control everyone in the city, student or not.

    For example, Wednesday’s meeting revealed city officials are seriously discussing a parking permit program that would require residents in a participating neighborhood association to pay for parking stickers in order to park their cars on the street. Not all members of a neighborhood need concur with such a program for a neighborhood association to force its residents to pay up.

    If a resident’s guests need to park on the street, they would need to obtain guest passes from their host. But if the host has more guests than guest passes, he or she might be stuck – no joke – telephoning the city for special privileges. The city then could give them what we might term a “party permission permit” or perhaps even a “24-hour party permission pass.”

    That is, in outline, how the parking permit program might work if the city implements it the way other cities, such as Lubbock, have. I say “in outline” because Fort Worth hasn’t quite figured out all the details of how such a program would actually work. It seems they want to vote on implementing the program before working out details.

    Students came and spoke out at the meeting Tuesday and their presence certainly changed the tenor of the conversation. The city is holding another public meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. to hear citizens’ opinions – including ours — on the proposed zoning changes and the parking permit program.

    The meeting will be held at the Deborah Beggs Moncrief Garden Center at the Botanic Garden, 3220 Botanic Garden Boulevard. Further student attendance stands to make a difference. At the very least, come watch the bickering on the alleged troublemaking of TCU students. For more information, contact Anthony Snipes, assistant city manager, at (817) 392-6123.

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