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TCU-area apartment complex plan raises neighborhood concern

Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth’s zoning commission on March 12 put a 30-day continuance on a controversial proposal for a new apartment building along South University Drive at the edge of Texas Christian University near the Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood.
The owner, Shope and Ryan Management, is seeking a rezoning of the 1.37-acre site at 3220-3248 S. University Drive that would effectively allow more beds.
But neighborhood associations raised several concerns, saying the project is too big and dense and will infringe on the neighborhoods, doesn’t have enough parking, and is inappropriately designed for its high-profile location between two of the city’s urban villages.
“I think it’s very important to emphasize it is a very interesting and dynamic building,” Matthew Vruggink, a principal with the ownership group, told zoning commissioners. “It is not a monolithic box.”


Commissioners voted 9-0 to continue the case. Commissioner Gaye Reed, who represents the district where the site is located, asked the two sides to meet and try to reach a compromise.
“Even though concessions have been made [by the developer], the product does not fit,” Brent Spear, president of the Bluebonnet Hills Neighborhood Association, told the commission. “We want low-density townhomes.”
Ojala Holdings of Dallas, the agent for Shope and Ryan, wants the property rezoned to “urban residential” from “C medium density multifamily.”


The new classification has no limits on the numbers of bedrooms, but it requires one parking space per bedroom. The property owners plan 80 apartments containing a total of 175 bedrooms.
Under the current zoning, they’re allowed a total of 125 bedrooms.
If it gets the site rezoned, Ojala plans the maximum allowable three stories of residential space above ground, plus one level of underground parking. The garage will contain 175 spaces, plus an additional 25 spaces for residents’ guests.
Neighborhood representatives said the parking is inadequate for the number of likely residents and guests, and they predicted that parking would overflow into the neighborhoods.
It “will create too much of a burden for our neighborhood,” Martha Jones, vice president of the Bluebonnet Hills association, told the commission.


Vruggink said the planned project is substantially “overparked” compared with requirements.
Residents also objected to the building’s proposed design, which includes several different looks built into the facade and materials such as brick and stone. It includes a main entry into a foyer that leads to the elevator and leasing office, and it lacks ground-floor, street-facing exterior entrances that the neighborhood groups wanted.
The traffic flow into the building will be largely through the garage, Sandra Dennehy, president of the Berry Street Initiative, told the zoning commission.


Dennehy said the project, to be built over five lots, doesn’t advance the pedestrian-friendly scene she and other neighborhood leaders say that segment of South University needs. The stretch is the link between the city’s Berry/University and Bluebonnet Circle urban villages – zoning overlays that emphasize pedestrian-friendly, inviting development that blends with neighborhoods and brings new buildings to the streets.
“We want a townhome model that has a front door on a street,” Dennehy said. “We felt it was critical that these two blocks of South University really became pedestrian-friendly, walkable. A true townhome model does that.”


“It will serve to activate the South University corridor by bringing the building to the street,” Vruggunk countered.
He stressed that the city's planning staff found the project compatible with surrounding uses and consistent with the city's comprehensive plan
It’s less dense than other residential buildings nearby, he noted. The developer can build three stories under its current zoning, and it plans to go with greater setbacks than are required, Vruggink said. The proposed plan also calls for street-friendly improvements such as bike racks, benches and trash receptacles.


Some neighbors have complained about the possibility of noise, so Shope and Ryan removed a swimming pool from their plan, Vruggink said.
He said the developers designed the site with one entry and exit, on South University, to contain and direct traffic.
Some neighbors compared the proposed design to another new apartment building nearby that they view as unattractive, but Vruggink said, “The emphasis of [our] project is to divert away from the monolithic plan that is in direct adjacency.”
 

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