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TCU-area overlay approved by Fort Worth City Council

The number of unrelated adults who can live in houses in neighborhoods zoned for single-family housing near TCU was lowered from five to three Tuesday night, after unanimous approval by the City Council.

The change — which had been discussed by the city staff, residents and council members since June — also came with council approval of a rental registration program for tenants in the area and exempted property owners already renting to more than three unrelated people from the new ordinance.

The push for changes in the area came after residents complained of stealth dorms — large five-bedroom houses that typically rent to college students — as well as parking congestion, traffic woes, excessive noise and partying from college students, and litter.

“It is a difficult issue, and everyone doesn’t walk away happy. … We have promised we will review it within a year and if it is not working in that year, we can certainly tweak it,” Mayor Betsy Price said.

“There are a couple of issues here, but the main one we dealt with tonight is on the integrity of the neighborhoods,” she said, adding that concerns about resident behavior can be addressed through code compliance and police enforcement.

The rules, called an occupancy overlay, would give property owners who have the legal number of tenants under the current ordinance an exemption lasting forever unless the owner changes the use of the structure for more than 24 consecutive months. The owners also have to register their properties by March 31.

The rental registration also requires leases of current tenants to be available to the city for inspection if the home is investigated and requires property owners to provide their own contact information and the information of a property representative to the city for emergency situations.

A TCU-area mediation group worked out the compromise between homeowners — who wanted the overlay without grandfathering — and investors — who did not want the overlay at all — in often heated meetings over five weeks.

The council also voted to lift a moratorium on building permits in the overlay, which was intended to halt any new “stealth dorms” while the mediators were working.

Councilwoman Gyna Bivens was absent.

Trying to address behavior

The rental registration program does not have the “teeth” many neighborhood leaders were initially hoping for to address concerns about student behavior and parking. To address that concern, the mediation group, made up of neighborhood leaders, TCU administrators, investors and student government leaders, also voted to recommend that the council consider a citywide chronic nuisance ordinance.

Several council members, however, were concerned about adding more code compliance regulations to an understaffed department.

“We already have code issues and we don’t have enough officers,” Councilman Sal Espino said Tuesday in a pre-council meeting.

“So before we look at a citywide nuisance ordinance, I want to make sure that we have sufficient resources to deal with the nuisances already that we are not addressing.”

Councilwoman Ann Zadeh said the city should review its current rules to make sure they are enough to take care of the residents’ concerns. Zadeh represents part of the overlay.

“If it requires additional things to be added and you want to add those to what we already have in the toolbox, and call that a nuisance ordinance, then that’s fine,” Zadeh said. “If we evaluate all we have on the books and determine there is no need to anything else, that is fine as well.”

Councilman Jungus Jordan called for a complete ordinance review.

“I can find in many of our ordinances one place where it says you can’t do something and another place where it says you have to do something,” Jordan said.

Price said the TCU staff and area stakeholders working to create a “Good Neighbor” program for the students should have a chance to come up with solutions before the city enacts more laws.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.