Neighbors fight Bluebonnet-area apartment plan

03/19/2014 5:49 PM

03/19/2014 5:50 PM

Residents of Fort Worth’s Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood know what an urban village looks like to them. A 175-unit apartment complex isn’t in it.

Matthew Vruggink of Ojala Holdings knows what fits the requirements for urban residential zoning on the 1.37-acre tract on the west side of South University Drive south of West Berry Street owned by Shope & Ryan Management Inc. The proposed apartment complex fits.

The twain don’t meet. That much is clear from a March 12 Zoning Commission hearing where Vruggink represented Shope & Ryan in requesting a change to urban residential zoning.

The neighborhood presented 75 signatures opposing the change, and the city received more than 40 letters in opposition.

The problem is, Vruggink and the neighborhood residents are both right. And while city officials who must ultimately sort all this out have an obligation to developers whose proposals comply with zoning restrictions, nearby homeowners hold at least equal rights.

In this case, Vruggink and his clients must honor the wishes of Bluebonnet Hills residents or risk walking away empty-handed.

Sandra Dennehy, chairwoman of the Berry Street Initiative and a member of the task force that created the urban residential zoning category in 2010 for areas like the Bluebonnet Circle Urban Village, told Star-Telegram writer Caty Hirst that the zoning ordinance is flawed.

She said the category should have been divided to fit low-density, medium-density and high-density sites. Neighbors say the proposed apartments would bring too many more residents and too much more traffic next to their single-family homes.

Vruggink says the project will have a “traditional townhome feel.” The neighbors aren’t sold.

Neither was the Zoning Commission, where the vote was 9-0 to delay a decision so the two sides can seek compromise.

Wanda Conlin, a commission member and longtime leader in her own West Meadowbrook neighborhood east of downtown, expressed concern for Bluebonnet Hills: “If we get apartments in this particular area, I think in the end, I see that these neighborhoods are going to be gone.”

Without neighborhood support, this project shouldn’t make much progress at City Hall.

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