East Fort Worth opponents of proposed low-income apartments win council decision

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The City Council denied a zoning change Tuesday night for a developer seeking to build about 230 affordable apartment units in east Fort Worth.

Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, who represents the area around Randol Mill Road where the complex was proposed, opposed the zoning request, saying affordable housing should be more equitably distributed across the city.

“Looking at the big picture, I believe the zoning that is in place at this location is already appropriate and is as it should be,” she said “I have every assurance that we have more than enough apartments on this side of town.”

James Schell, the Fort Worth attorney representing landowner East Chase LLP, said the developer planned to sell the rezoned land to Atlantic Housing, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing affordable housing.

The vote was 7-0. Councilmen W.B. Zimmerman and Sal Espino were absent.

The Fort Worth Zoning Commission approved the change Sept. 11 from neighborhood commercial to multifamily medium density.

Bivens had arranged to delay the council vote on the zoning request, which had been scheduled for a meeting the morning of Oct. 7, so more residents could attend and speak.

And they came Tuesday night.

Opponents flooded council chambers “in a sea of red,” as Bivens described it, taking up about half the seats and some of the overflow room. They contended that the proposed apartments in the 8700 block of Randol Mill Road could raise crime rates, lower home values and add pressure to schools and roads.

Schell, however, said Atlantic Housing is a credible nonprofit and offers scholarships to students and discounts on rent for families who have children with good attendance and good grades.

“If you group apartments all together on the east side, I might be wearing a red shirt,” he said. “But if you look at this individual 501(c)(3), if you look at Atlantic Housing, I don’t think you can do that.

“This is an attempt by my clients to give a hand up to those in need, not a handout, and I would be disappointed if you do not pass this request today.”

Employees and residents of another Atlantic Housing-owned complex, Silver Leaf Apartments, adjacent to the proposed complex, came to the meeting to speak in favor of it.

Leonard Freeman, community services manager for Atlantic Housing, said the foundation provided him with free housing for two years while he was going to Sam Houston State University. Fort Worth needs good affordable housing, he said.

“My mom had me at 14 years old. I was built to lose. I wasn’t built to win. I needed an opportunity,” Freeman said. “Atlantic Housing Foundation stepped in and helped me get through school. I have a career now and a 1-year-old daughter. I’m going to make sure she is built to win, and if wasn‘t for Atlantic Housing Foundation, I probably wouldn’t have that opportunity.”

Becky Haskin, a former councilwoman from the area, spoke in opposition.

“These people aren’t wearing red because it is their favorite color. They are wearing red because they are running on fear. Tonight they are running on fear that once again you are going to give us more apartments we don‘t want,” she said.

Scott Willingham, who said he had lived in Bentley Village since 1984, presented a petition with 250 signatures opposing the apartments.

The neighborhood has more than 3,000 apartment units within 1 mile of the proposed complex, according to city records.

Also Tuesday night, the council approved a zoning change to restrict gas compressors to areas zoned for industry and planned development.

The compressors, which maintain pressure in pipelines, are located at various intervals on the line and were previously allowed by right in agricultural zones.

Several neighborhood associations in east Fort Worth have been fighting the gas compressors, citing noise, pollution and safety concerns, for two years.

The vote was unanimous. The city staff and council members made multiple suggestions before voting on the final change Tuesday.

Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @CatyHirst

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