August 19, 2014

TCU-area residents try to restrict ‘stealth dorms’

The proposed TCU-specific overlay district would restrict the number of unrelated adults who can live in a single-family home from five to three.

The City Council is moving forward with a plan in the TCU area to restrict the number of unrelated adults who can live in a single-family home from five to three, after a presentation Tuesday showed most of the area’s residents are in favor of the proposal.

The TCU-specific planning overlay district is an attempt to curb what some call “stealth dormitories” — large, five-bedroom houses built by developers in the historic neighborhoods that typically rent to college students.

“I don’t think it was ever the intention of single-family to have this type of use in it, because this is not really the spirit of the single-family use of the property,” said Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, who lives in the proposed overlay district.

Most neighborhood residents — and a few council members — also don’t want existing properties with five unrelated renters to be grandfathered under the proposed overlay.

“I think we agreed we must move forward on doing this and the real question, the real issue, is the grandfathering,” said Mayor Pro Tem W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, who represents the other half of the proposed overlay district.

“I personally believe that if we grandfather forever, we don’t resolve the problem, in fact, we exacerbate it,” he said, proposing to restrict the occupancy for current houses as leases expire.

But Glenn Leimbach, an owner of five-bedroom homes in the area, said that is not acceptable.

“I’m not completely against the overlay, but I absolutely have to have the grandfather. There is no getting around that. It is a real financial hardship if I don’t,” Leimbach said.

Dana Burghdoff, deputy director for planning and development, said only a minority of residents are OK with the existing properties being grandfathered.

Mayor Betsy Price, who lives near the proposed district, said the council has to balance the concerns of the residents with the investments already made in the neighborhoods.

“Under our current code, we have allowed these investors to put hundreds of thousands of dollars in some of these houses. … Now, to go in and say, ‘You can’t use them for what you built them for.’ There is a fine balancing line there,” she said.

Leimbach, for example, not only followed the city ordinance, which does allow five unrelated people to live in a house together, but he also has a tax abatement agreement with the city on two of his five-bedroom rentals in the 2700 block of Sandage Avenue.

The proposed overlay that could come to the Zoning Commission by Oct. 8 would encompass single-family zoned neighborhoods surrounding TCU, including Frisco Heights, University Place, Paschal, Bluebonnet Place, Bluebonnet Hills, Westcliff, Westcliff West, Colonial Hills, Tanglewood, University West, University Place, Park Hill, Park Hill Place and Berkeley Place. Forest Park asked to be added to that list.

Parking issues

Coupled with the overlay is a citywide effort to control parking at single-family homes by requiring an additional parking space per bedroom if the home has more than three bedrooms. Currently, two parking spaces are required regardless of how many bedrooms there may be.

Paula Deane Traynham, president of the Frisco Heights Neighborhood Association, has called Frisco Heights a canary in the coal mine for the other neighborhoods surrounding TCU, because the small neighborhood of circa 1920s-50s homes has been largely swallowed up by new duplexes, five-bedroom homes and apartments.

Frisco Heights voted to support the overlay and voted to not allow grandfathering.

“We wish our neighborhood could be the way it used to be, but the practical part of it is you can’t turn back time,” she said.

Traynham said the residents in Frisco Heights hope to solve some of the parking and congestion problems in the neighborhoods.

Leimbach, however, said the citywide parking change proposal in conjunction with the TCU overlay would largely fix the parking issues.

“I believe the real issue in the area is not how many people are in the house, it is whether or not they have enough parking,” said Leimbach, who does provide a parking space for each bedroom at his rentals. “The homeowners are trying to resolve the parking issue retroactively by limiting the occupancy.”

Another concern expressed by area residents is that market for the large homes would be hurt if TCU reaches its goal of having all undergraduate students live on campus.

This article includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

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