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Developer says "not likely" to build TCU-area project without rezoning

By Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

The developer on the short end of a unanimous decision by the Fort Worth Zoning Commssion to bar a controversial 175-bedroom apartment development near TCU said it’s unlikely he’ll go forward with the project if he loses an upcoming City Council vote.

“Potentially, but unlikely,” Matthew Vruggink, principal with Ojala Holdings, said in an interview. Ojala has the several lots in the 3220-3248 blocks of South University Drive between West Berry Street and Bluebonnet Circle under option.

The Zoning Commission last week voted 9-0 to turn down Ojala’s request to rezone the property to urban residential, which would allow 50 more bedrooms than the roughly 125 allowed by current zoning.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the case June 3. Commissioner Gaye Reed, who represents the South Side district that includes the proposed development, said she was concerned that the project would be too dense and not have enough parking.

“These are real issues,” she said.

The lots currently have seven largely 1920s and 1930s-era fourplexes containing a total of 28 apartments.

Ojala, which has options to buy the lots from Shope & Ryan Management, Inc., would demolish the buildings and replace them with a building containing about 65 one and two-bedroom apartments containing a total 175 bedrooms. Parking for the complex would be almost entirely in an underground structure, with the city-required one space per bedroom; another 25 spaces for visitors would be outside.

Ojala, in presenting proposed renderings, says the building would be designed in the town home style the neighborhood wants, with street-friendly improvements like benches, bike racks, and landscaping.

“It would seem to further walkable density; that is a definition of urban village,” Vruggink said.

The neighborhoods, however, said the building is too big and will house too many people. It will push traffic and visitor parking into the neighborhoods like Bluebonnet Hills, they said, even though the developer designed access only to and from South University.

The developer designed the building with a main street-level common entry, instead of individual entrances for each of the units, and critics also say much tenant flow will be through the building’s parking garage.

Neighborhood leaders say those design features will detract from the pedestrian street traffic that’s critical in linking the Berry/University and Bluebonnet Circle urban villages along South University. Fort Worth’s urban village plans call for dense, multiple-use, pedestrian-and transit-friendly development.

“While we understand there will be development and it will be denser in nature, we still want it to have a residential feel,” Sandra Dennehy, chair of the Berry Street Initiative, said in an interview.

Neighborhood leaders also fear the property will be aimed largely at TCU students, while the university continues to move toward building more on-campus housing.

In the same vein, developers continue to build five-bedroom homes aimed at TCU students in the area around TCU.

“All those single-family, five-bedroom homes are going to be vacant” as TCU builds more housing, Dennehy said. “Then what do you do to them? The whole neighborhood goes into decline.”

The developer has made concessions. Barry Hudson, representing Dunaway Associates, the Fort Worth engineering and landscape architecture firm working on the project, told the Zoning Commission the developer has added 12 street-level pedestrian access points, with entry stoops, porches, and planting areas.

Three of those 12 would provide access to multiple units, and the other nine would provide access to individual apartments, Hudson said.

The development won’t encroach into Bluebonnet Hills, because traffic access is entirely to and from University, Hudson told the Zoning Commission.

The development will provide a multifamily residential transition between the single-family neighborhood and University, Hudson said.

The neighborhood has compared the project plan to a mixed-use development on the east side of University that has stumbled, but Hudson stressed his clients’ project won’t have a commercial component, is not as tall, will have an “engaging building facade,” and will “activate the University Drive pedestrian environment.”

“The city staff has consistently said the zoning change is compatible with surrounding land uses and consistent with the (Fort Worth) comprehensive plan,” he said.

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