Fort Worth

Councilman wants to change how Fort Worth looks at apartment development

Fort Worth Councilman Cary Moon has initiated and received a zoning change from multifamily to single-family on the property he is standing on at Boca Raton Boulevard and Oakland Hills.
Fort Worth Councilman Cary Moon has initiated and received a zoning change from multifamily to single-family on the property he is standing on at Boca Raton Boulevard and Oakland Hills.

A year into his first term in office, Fort Worth Councilman Cary Moon has gained momentum in his desire — and in fulfilling a campaign promise — to change how and where apartment communities are built in his district.

After all, his District 4 includes Woodhaven, an east-side neighborhood where in the 1970s and ’80s the city concentrated the building of nearly two dozen complexes and thousands of apartments. Eventually, time took its toll and many of the apartments deteriorated. The area became notorious for having a high crime rate. It’s taken years of work to turn it around.

Moon doesn’t want that repeated anywhere in his district, or anywhere in Fort Worth, for that matter.

So, armed with the ability to himself initiate rezoning in place of the landowner, Moon last fall began the process of “down-zoning” properties away from multifamily use to single-family uses, concentrating on tracts that were classified by city staff not to be compatible with the city’s land-use policy or comprehensive plan, which guides growth and development. The council considered those cases in April and June.

Moon didn’t always win.

“What I’ve looked at is the history of multifamily development in Fort Worth and felt like the city had not always gotten their multifamily development right,” Moon said. “It was really everywhere. The goal is to have more control over the multifamily, take it away from being permitted by right. A multifamily developer can still come in and develop, but there’s going to be a public process for that, more neighbors have got to be notified. They’re going to build it with more strict standards.”

Moon acknowledges property owners’ rights, but it did not stop him from going after rezoning even if the owner opposed it.

What he does not like to see is apartment communities put near single-family homes. Rather, apartment communities should be “companioned” with commercial areas, next to stores and services, and in job centers and near public transportation. He cites the Alliance Town Center mixed-used project in far north Fort Worth where multifamily is successful. The commercial areas act as a buffer to the surrounding neighborhoods, he said.

District 4 extends into far north Fort Worth, and east of Interstate 35W, where a good deal of the city’s recent growth has occurred.

“We don’t want what hasn’t worked in the past to be pulled into the developments of the new parts of Fort Worth,” Moon said.

Controversial case

Of the cases he’s initiated so far, the most controversial one involved a 15-acre tract at the northwest corner of Beach Street and Shiver Road, just north of North Tarrant Parkway. In April, the council rejected changing the zoning from medium-high-density to single-family use, citing a “fairness” issue.

Moon said he was disappointed in the vote.

The landowner, Robert Sandlin, a Dallas-based developer, could not be reached for comment last week. But during a March meeting where the Zoning Commission recommended the change, Sandlin was visibly upset that Moon was seeking the change. Sandlin said the property had been zoned multifamily since his investors bought it as part of larger 300-acre tract in 2000, most of which has since been developed with houses.

“Why do they single us out?” Sandlin asked the commission. “This has been hard to understand. This is not right.”

Yet, two weeks later, the council did not approve a resolution of no objection for the application of Pedcor Investments in Austin for housing tax credits for a proposed low-income, 168-unit apartment community on the property. Pedcor had been under contract to buy the land since 2014.

The vote came after residents adamantly told the council they didn’t want another low-income housing community next to their homes. One resident said there were 15 such communities with a 5-mile radius of the site. Moon helped organize a bus to bring people to City Hall to speak against the project.

Councilwomen Ann Zadeh, Kelly Allen Gray and Gyna Bivens voted to support the project. Later, Bivens would say she was bothered by “the tone” in the council chamber that night.

Zoning cases heard

In another case that involved 3.8 acres off Belknap Street, at 1330 Harper St., 4005 Wheeler St. and the 1300 block of Kings Highway, Moon received the single-family designation, even though the city did not hear back from the two owners after they were notified of pending zoning change.

The zoning was also changed on 14.5 acres at 5817 and 5901 Boca Raton Blvd., property where the city obtained ownership by condemnation in 2007 for repeated code violations. The apartments were demolished.

In June, zoning was changed on nearly 7 acres close to the northwest corner of Boca Raton and Woodhaven Boulevard, despite the objection of the property owner. The owner also could not be reached for comment.

And in another case, the zoning was changed on 156 acres generally bounded by Western Center Boulevard, North Beach Street, Fossil Creek Boulevard and Interstate 35W — mostly vacant land and the Golf Club at Fossil Creek — as a way to prevent future multifamily development, or worse, industrial uses, if the golf course changed hands. The New York-based owners did not oppose the rezoning, according to a city report.

Moon said he “was getting ahead” of any potential problems.

In that case, though, about 18 acres at Travertine Lane and Riverside Drive, north of Fossil Creek, were taken out of the request because the landowner, Cortland Partners in Atlanta, objected to the rezoning. The owner’s attorney told the council that it has well over $1 million invested in an upcoming apartment community.

In one case not initiated by Moon but in his district, the council in November voted 7-2 to approve changing at the owner’s request a vacant 17.3-acre industrial tract to high-density multifamily in the Mercantile Business Park off Meacham Boulevard. This was despite city staff saying the proposed use was a “significant deviation” from the city’s comprehensive plan. The Zoning Commission had recommended that the council deny the request.

The opposition said the land, at 3451 Northern Cross Blvd., is not close to parks, sidewalks, grocery stores or other retail outlets and would be more than a mile from a proposed Tex Rail station. There are no bike lanes or medical centers nearby, they said. Beyond that, several top officials with Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district vociferously opposed the rezoning, saying the location was far from the nearest schools, making it a difficult trek for residents.

NRP Group plans 363 apartments. The sale of the land is expected by the end of July, according to Mercantile Partners.

Moon said this case met his criteria for apartments being done in the right location.

“It’s near a major traffic corridor with Loop 820 and Beach and it’s near public transportation,” Moon said. “I haven’t done a good enough job of telling this story. This is a perfect example of how we should do this correctly. This location has minimal impact on single-family.”

But before he would approve the case, Moon said he sought and received assurances from the developer that it would provide after-school and summer programs for the kids who live there, saying, “A lot of cities take on measures that have more controls in the development.”

Moon has not finished his pursuit. He said he’s looking to find all the vacant land in his district that is zoned multifamily but that is not in concert with the city’s comprehensive plan. So far, he’s pegged about 10 properties he said he’ll consider council-initiated rezoning.

“One of my campaign commitments was smarter development,” Moon said. “I’m not against multifamily. I’m against multifamily being done wrong. I still have a lot of work to do.”