Fort Worth

Would you ride to work? Why Fort Worth is looking to TEXRail stations for development

Fort Worth traffic has been a fact of life basically forever, but a plan propelled by interest in the TEXRail line could cut the need for a car for many who want to live and work in Tarrant County.

The city’s economic development department hopes to attract apartments and townhomes, restaurants, bars and grocery stores to the neighborhoods surrounding commuter rail stations. Incentives are no stranger to the city, but these are different — they’re specifically geared toward developments dependent on commuter rail passengers.

The idea is to attract projects geared toward people who don’t own a car or simply don’t want to drive. The developments aren’t necessarily “urban villages,” said Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director, but they should be walkable — within a half-mile of the train station.

Developers would be able to apply for a 50 percent reduction in the improved property value of the site with some stipulations. Developments must have a commercial component and residential space and buildings must be three stories or taller with an investment of at least $5 million.

The Fort Worth City Council will vote on the incentives Jan. 29.

“If you’ve got your station right there, you can hop on the rail and get to work and still have all the amenities you want next to you,” Sturns said. “You don’t need to have a car.”

That’s a shift for Fort Worth, where 90 percent of workers drive, according to the recently released 2017 commuting data from the American Community Survey. The Census study found about 82 percent of the city’s commuters drive alone, in line with Texas as a whole. Less than 2 percent of drivers in Fort Worth take transit, walk or bike.

Trinity Metro hopes TEXRail attracts 8,000 riders a day by the end of 2019. In the first 12 days of service, 55,000 passengers boarded a TEXRail car, the transit authority said. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday had the highest number of daily riders to date with 8,287. Riding has been free since opening day, but will cost as of Feb. 1.

An annual pass for TEXRail is $800, or about $3.08 per day. That cost goes up for passes that include TRE lines to Dallas, about $7.38 a day or $1,920 a year. A day pass on TEXRail is $5 or $2.50 for one way.

Fort Worth has four commuter rail stops, Texas & Pacific Station and the Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown and North Side and Mercantile Center. With the buzz created by TEXRail’s opening weekend, which saw about 11,000 riders, officials at Trinity Metro think it’s realistic to extend the line to the city’s hospital district and maybe even farther south to the TCU campus.

At any station outside the city’s center, a shopping and residential development could dramatically change the neighborhood.

Sturns said the city doesn’t have specific developments in mind and zoning will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Any development will be vetted to make sure it’s a good fit for the neighborhood, he said.

“The last thing anyone wants to do is plop in some very dense development that’s not consistent with the neighborhood or that might lead to gentrification,” he said. “We want to take a broad view and make sure we’re creating something that’s useful for new residents as well as current residents.”

Such development would change the makeup around Fort Worth’s Mercantile Center, said Brain Randolph, president of the Mercantile Partners LP, which manages the office park and manufacturing center near the station, which sits southwest of Beach Street and Meacham Boulevard.

A 200-acre swath of land immediately adjacent to the Mercantile Center station would be the first target for development, he said. That area is not industrial and with Little Fossil Creek running through the land, Randolph said it is prime for a retail and residential development whose residents rely on the train or work at nearby businesses.

Interest in the site has increased since the station opened, he said. Another large tract of land near the station can also be developed.

Housing has not been a focus for the business park, but Randolph sees it as vital to the area’s growth.

“It certainly would change the tone of what our business park looks like,” he said. “Having a place to live close to work is ideal for attracting future business.”

Fort Worth is slightly behind other cities on the TEXRail line when it comes to so-called transit-oriented development. Stations in Grapevine and North Richland Hills drew development before the commuter line opened.

In Grapevine, a boutique hotel slated to open in 2020 will anchor a site south of the TEXRail station that will also include a great hall and common square that faces the city’s historic Main Street, said Bob Farley, Grapevine economic development director. The combined projects amount to between $110 million and $120 million.

Grapevine is also considering zoning rules that would encourage further development around that station, as long as it fits the aesthetic of other Main Street buildings, and the DFW Airport North station.

“If you get one corner activated, the chance of getting similar long-term development going is greater,” Farley said.

Two TEXRail stops in North Richland Hills are spurring different types of development.

At the Iron Horse stop, townhomes and moderately sized single-family homes are under construction, with approval to build more, and at Smithfield Station, the city is hoping to put out a development request for an urban village. The city has about 150 acres prime for development between the two stations, said Craig Hulse, North Richland Hills economic development director.

While Fort Worth is mulling incentives and Grapevine used some subsidies for the boutique hotel, North Richland Hills hasn’t relied on incentives to spur this growth, Hulse said. But the city wouldn’t oppose transit-oriented development incentives as long as it shifted the tax burden away from residential properties, he said.

North Richland Hills has long been a car-dependent bedroom community, Hulse said, but the city is working to change that culture.

“We’re really trying to create an environment that’s walkable,” he said.

In Fort Worth the commuter rail could help curb urban sprawl, Sturns said.

“The more we can drive development in the urban core — that’s good for us,” he said.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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