Hank Billman has knocked on a lot of his neighbors’ doors recently. The resident of Colonial Hills — the neighborhood west of Texas Christian University — isn’t selling encyclopedias or inviting folks to church. He’s collecting signatures on a petition that he hopes will stop construction of a six-story parking garage directly across the street from his house.
“Most of the people in the neighborhood that I have talked to weren’t even aware [TCU] was building a garage right on top of their houses,” he said.
Billman and a few of his neighbors first heard about the planned 1,200-car garage about a year ago. TCU wants to build it near the base of Bellaire Drive North, directly across the street from homes on Alton Road and right beside one home on the corner of Alton and Bellaire.
In response to neighbors’ objections, TCU has proposed making several cosmetic changes to the plan. But many neighbors don’t want it built there at all. Billman and others have asked that the university build two smaller garages farther away from their homes.
Residents have some leverage because TCU needs a zoning change in order to build the garage as planned, on what is now a field. School officials applied for the zoning change in August. However, last week they requested and got a 30-day delay from the city zoning commission that was about to vote on the requested change.
The garage isn’t a stand-alone project. It’s the necessary first domino in a sequential plan by the university. TCU wants to build new residence halls on what are now parking lots. Before they remove those parking spaces, however, they want a new parking garage ready to pick up the slack. Only when the garage is complete can the rest of the plan move forward.
A TCU spokeswoman said school officials are trying to figure out how to change the parking garage plans to accommodate both the college’s needs and those of neighbors. The university wants to begin construction by April 2014.
Billman and some neighbors are concerned that the garage would create noise and light pollution and bring more traffic into the neighborhood. Residents also worry that the garage will create privacy issues, affect the property values of the nearby homes, and destroy a much-loved green space.
Bobby Sharp, whose corner home would be directly across the street from the garage, said that if the university sticks to its preliminary design, people parking on the upper levels of the garage would be able to see in his backyard and bedroom window.
“In it’s current [design], the garage would face our yard and our bedroom,” he said. “It would be looking directly into our backyard. It’s concerning. We’d like them to look at some alternatives.”
In an e-mail to Fort Worth Weekly, Todd Waldvogel, TCU’s associate vice chancellor for facilities, said that the proposed location at the bottom of a hill minimizes the garage’s apparent height and puts it as close as possible to where students live who will use the garage. Also, he said, the location leaves as much land as possible available “for the complete development of our Worth Hills residential community.” He didn’t say whether the university has considered other locations.
The property is currently zoned for apartments. Because of the nearby homes, such zoning would allow the garage to be no taller than 35 feet and would require it to be set back from the street at least 100 feet. TCU’s current plan is for a garage twice that tall, built almost to the property line. The university is asking for a change to planned-unit development zoning, under which its plan would be allowable.
TCU invited neighbors to a community meeting in August to talk about the garage, but only a few people showed up, according to a spokeswoman for the university.
Billman said he found out about the planned garage from an article in TCU 360, a student publication. When he and Sharp took their complaints to TCU officials, university staffers organized a second meeting on Oct. 2, a week before the zoning commission meeting. About 20 residents showed up.
“We had very little time to get organized or react, once they had their neighborhood meeting,” Billman said.
He put together a PowerPoint presentation that he showed to zoning commissioners. He planned to ask them to deny the change or delay the decision. But representatives from the university asked for the delay first.
Sandy Record, the TCU spokeswoman, said that the university asked the zoning commission for the delay after hearing neighbors’ concerns during the Oct. 2 meeting.
“TCU has filed for a continuance with the zoning commission to further study the situation and see what we can do to make the neighbors happier,” she said.
At the Oct. 2 meeting, Waldvogel told the crowd that the garage would not create traffic problems because the entrance would be on the campus side, not in the neighborhood. Also, he said, a TCU police substation on the premises “will be a very visible deterrent to speeding.”
A specially designed concrete floor will reduce tire noise, he said.
One of the goals of the project, he said, is to get more students living on campus. “We want as many students living on campus as possible,” he said. “This will take them out of the neighborhoods.
“There has to be flexibility on both sides,” Waldvogel said.
Billman said that he understands TCU’s predicament but believes there are other spaces on campus that would be equally suitable for a parking garage. Opponents of the garage have suggested that the university build two smaller garages farther from residential areas.
“We realize they are going to have to do something about parking,” he said. “And we realize they will have to build a parking garage. We’re just asking them not to build it on top of us.
“We’re not trying to make TCU look like the bad guys,” he said. “We just want to be treated fairly.”
While university planners use their 30-day delay to mull over potential compromises, Billman is still gathering support from his neighbors.
He recently showed his PowerPoint presentation to the Colonial Hills Neighborhood Association. Many members didn’t know about the garage, he said, and others thought its location was farther east, closer to Stadium Drive.
“The majority of the group was supportive of our efforts,” he said, “and I was able to get more signatures on the petition asking TCU to find a location for the garage that doesn’t adversely affect our neighborhood.” He said he has more than 50 signatures and is still gathering them.
Even if the zoning commission rejects TCU’s plans in 30 days, the Fort Worth City Council could overrule that decision. “I’ll continue to try and get more signatures so that when the zoning request goes to the city council we’ll be able to show that a large majority of the neighbors are against the garage,” Billman said.
“Most people [in the neighborhood] have signed it,” he said. “The only people who haven’t signed it are the ones who work for TCU or do business with them.”