Some folks simply refuse to be overrun by developers. And to be fair, some local developers aren’t above listening to and working with concerned neighbors.
In the past couple of years, neighbors around Camp Bowie Boulevard near the Cultural District have killed three different plans to build something on the vacant lot just west of The Ginger Man. One developer just gave up. Another scrapped its initial plans and kept revising them until winning the neighbors’ approval.
Sometime in the yet-unannounced future, the street will be home to an office complex that not only fits in with the existing businesses but also nestles in comfortably among the nearby houses of mostly mid-20th-century frame vintage. A representative with the current developer, V Fine Homes, chose not to speak with the Fort Worth Weekly for this article.
Camp Bowie Boulevard is known for its red bricks and commercial appeal. The hair salons, restaurants, antique stores, washaterias, and other small businesses attract customers from all over town. This three-mile stretch has evolved into its current, vibrant form only over the last couple of decades. What is sometimes forgotten is that behind those storefronts are dwellings and neighborhoods. Families are there, living their lives, expecting some peace and quiet.
Camp Bowie businesses and neighborhoods live in harmony for the most part.
And with all of the development and revitalization sweeping the entire city, especially the nearby West 7th Street corridor, you might wonder what took developers so long to get around to filling up every vacant lot along Camp Bowie. Camp Bowie folks don’t mind commercial development if it fits in well with the surrounding communities. These people certainly don’t need the kind of development initially proposed by Evolving Texas.
In 2013, the Fort Worth developer announced its plans to build a five-story mixed-use building at 3736 Camp Bowie Blvd., near the Dorothy Lane intersection. The plan included moving The Ginger Man inside the building. The neighbors erupted. The site was zoned multifamily with a lot behind it zoned single-family residential. Neighbors were hoping for an upscale multifamily complex.
“We’re not anti-development,” said Susan Urshel, zoning chairperson of the North Hi Mount Neighborhood Association, whose purview includes 3736 Camp Bowie. “It just has to be done right and not take away from our property values.”
The developer did not provide enough parking, meaning some visiting cars might park curbside in the neighborhood. And the building’s height would not match the low-lying terrain of the area. Most of all, the plan just seemed so far away from what everyone was used to. A church was located at the site when many of the current neighbors first moved into the area. Arlington Heights Baptist Church moved from the site years ago, and the old church building was razed. Now the empty lot is prime for redevelopment.
The neighbors objected to the mixed-use designation. They felt developers often abused this type of zoning, turning what were supposed to be mixes of commercial and residential properties into purely commercial projects unfit for neighborhoods. Developers sometimes accuse neighbors of being pesky naysayers. North Hi Mount folks, Urshel said, were trying to protect their property values and quality of life.
V Fine Homes entered the picture last year. The Fort Worth developer first planned to build two three-story buildings and a parking lot. Neighbors worried the buildings were too tall and the parking lot too small. An early agent representing V Fine Homes angered neighbors, who felt their input was being ignored, said Jim Forrester, who lives across Dorothy Lane from the proposed office building.
“We really weren’t sure exactly where they were coming from most of the time because they kept saying, ‘Well, what do you want?’ ” Forrester said. “Every time we told them what we wanted, we never got what we wanted.”
The neighbors and developer tussled back and forth. They eventually squared off at the Board of Adjustments, a group that meets weekly at City Hall to hear cases where it is alleged that the city’s building officials have erred when interpreting an ordinance. The board sided with the neighbors.
That fall, V Fine Homes offered a new plan. This time, the developers were more willing to compromise. V Fine and the neighbors met regularly, often in the company of City Councilmember Dennis Shingleman. The parties negotiated to add adjustments to the plan that would benefit neighbors. The adjustments meant the site would have to change from residential zoning to neighborhood commercial restrictive zoning, which prohibits alcohol. Association members went door-to-door to get signatures for the zoning change petition and were able to understand and respect other neighbors’ ideas, said Ann Stahl, zoning committee member.
“We worked hard to try to get a consensus of what the neighbors … wanted,” Stahl said.
For example, the building will not have entrances and exits on Dorothy Lane, reducing the likelihood of congestion.
Some of the rabblerousers had never given testimony at a city meeting before. Some had to take off work early to attend. Some practiced their speeches in front of colleagues in anticipation of the big fight, Forrester said.
In December, their hard work paid off. The City Council voted for the more restrictive zoning. Neighbors say the new plan is the best-case scenario. V Fine Homes’ office building will be two stories tall, with six parallel parking spots on Dorothy Lane and a wall between the office and neighbors for privacy and noise/light buffering. Lou Villa, who has managed The Ginger Man since it opened nine years ago, hopes the new development will bring him more customers.
“If they’re going to go ahead with [the project], let’s hope for the good,” Villa said.