Volunteers search for people sleeping without shelter during the annual homeless count
Bars cover the windows and tall fences circle many of the businesses along East Lancaster, keeping them caged off from would-be customers.
The iron rails went up as concern grew for safety in the once-thriving corridor of small businesses and retail chains. Now a group of those property owners hope a self-imposed tax will help the city address safety and security in east Fort Worth.
The Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday approved a public improvement district for a roughly five-mile stretch of commercial properties on East Lancaster, from Riverside Drive east to Loop 820. More than $200,000 annually would be raised through a 10-year property tax for cameras, private security, lighting and other enhancements designed to improve safety.
“This will go a long way for our poor, old beat up street to realize the potential that is there,” said Wanda Conlin, East Fort Worth Business Association president.
Don Boren, a member of the city’s planning commission and east side business owner, said safety has been a growing concern about businesses along East Lancaster for years.
As the number of people in Fort Worth facing homelessness has grown, the number people panhandling along East Lancaster has increased, he said. Though aggressive panhandling and property crime has been a concern, businesses are worried about drug activity, prostitution and other crimes that drive potential customers away.
“It’s the type of activity that really puts a damper on our ability to attract and keep viable businesses,” he said.
A police spokesman said the city was unable to access its crime statistics without a written request. The Star-Telegram filed a request on Tuesday.
Unlike like other improvement zones the city has established recently, like the effort in North Side, the East Lancaster district will focus on commercial security improvements rather than a residential revitalization. Funding will initially focus on cameras, private security, streets and sidewalk improvements, but landscaping and other beautification will be approved later.
The property tax will cost the owner of a property valued at $250,000 property $738. It will generate about $218,000 in 2019 and more than $245,000 by 2023.
Signatures from more than half of the commercial property owners were required before the council could consider the improvement district. Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said the willingness to tax themselves “speaks volumes” to the property owners’ desire to improve East Lancaster.
“They’re saying ‘this is our neighborhood and we want to do everything we can to stay here and make it safe,’” Gray said.
Not everyone was in favor of the the tax.
Barney Robinson told council members last week he didn’t believe the tax was necessary. Though he’s aware of security concerns, he said he rarely has an issue at his lumber business because because of fencing and security cameras.
“I’m taxed to death,” he told the council. “Every time I turn around someone is wanting more.”
Fort Worth has used public improvement districts since 1986 when the first one was established downtown. That district was re-established in 2009 for a 20-year term and supplements maintenance, including street and sidewalk sweeping, as well as security enhancements and promotion of downtown recreation.
The most recent PID before East Lancaster was established last year for a lengthy strip of Camp Bowie between University and Irene.
Boren, who also works with the East Fort Worth Business Association, said the improvement district may spur new development.
“We’ve already seeing some increased interest,” he said. “When a community shows interest in improving, that promotes itself.”