The brick wall along Chapel Creek Boulevard in far West Fort Worth is getting worse.
This 6-foot-high, 2,000-foot-long privacy barrier between the boulevard and the neighborhood of Little Chapel Creek started falling apart not long after it was built in 1998. Now it’s a holy mess. The wall leans in places and has begun to crumble along sloping areas. Some bricks have spilled out onto the sidewalk.
Last October, Fort Worth Code Compliance workers told 15 homeowners along the boulevard that the wall had become a safety hazard and needed to be fixed or replaced. A fine of up to $2,000 a day could be imposed as long as the wall remained in violation (“A Large Bill,” April 20, 2016).
A few homeowners sought estimates and discovered it would cost thousands of dollars per homeowner to replace their sections. Code Compliance sent out another round of letters in February giving the homeowners until February 29 to take action on the wall. The residents howled. The city postponed the deadline.
On April 4, Code Compliance sent letters giving the residents 180 days to come up with a plan to replace or repair the wall.
Neighborhood leaders have struggled to wrangle all of the homeowners into one place to discuss a plan. A meeting was scheduled two weeks ago, and only a handful of people showed up, said Jim Stachan, whose backyard includes about 125 feet of the wall.
“I don’t know why the residents aren’t taking this seriously,” Strachan said.
A handful of the properties are rental units, and the occupants have no financial responsibility for the wall –– their landlords do. The city has threatened to replace the wall and pass the bill along to the homeowners in the form of liens. However, liens don’t have to be paid off until the property is sold, meaning the debt can be delayed or passed along to the next buyer.
City officials expect the wall to cost more than $100,000 to tear down and rebuild. Financial responsibility for replacing the wall is falling solely on the homeowners.
But residents say the city officials bear some if not all of the liability.
“It’s wrong to act like this wall is our fault,” Strachan said. “I’m not taking this lying down. That wall is not going to be the end of me financially.”
Strachan, a disabled veteran living on a fixed income, has spent the last three years living in this pleasant looking middle-class neighborhood where houses sell for around $150,000. Nobody disputes that the wall was built by a developer on private property that was later divided into various lots for houses. Once the houses were built and sold, the homeowners agreed to bear the responsibility for their section of wall. But Strachan and others blame city employees for allowing the wall to be built in such a careless manner.
Gary Hogan, president of the Chapel Creek Neighborhood Association, researched the history of the wall several years ago and discovered the developer, whose name he has forgotten, had retired and moved to Florida. Hogan tracked down the contractor who built the wall, Steve Jennings, of Hurst.
“He told me, ‘Mr. Hogan, when I build a wall for a developer, I ask them what they want: a 10-year wall, a 20-year wall, or the Great Wall of China.’ ”
Little Chapel Creek’s developer ordered the cheapest wall with a 10-year warranty, Hogan said. The warranty expired in 2008.
At first, Jennings agreed to attend a neighborhood meeting, look at the wall, and come up with ideas to fix it. But he canceled his visit after a homeowner threatened to sue him for building such a shoddy wall, Hogan said.
Hogan believes that Jennings had worked without the proper permits, although the neighborhood association president offered no supporting evidence. Based on his research, he came to the conclusion that a resident became concerned during the wall’s construction, saying the contractor appeared to be taking shortcuts, such as using mud instead of concrete. The resident began videotaping the workers, who promptly called the cops. The resident complained to police about the crew’s quality of work. Police called a city inspector, Hogan said, who issued a cease and desist order.
Work resumed once Jennings acquired a permit, Hogan said. Residents say the city should have made him tear down what he had built and start over.
“Back in the 1990s,” Hogan said, “the city of Fort Worth was not real great at inspecting stuff they should have been paying attention to.”
City officials, concerned for public safety, have closed off the sidewalk next to the wall. City workers put up barriers and yellow police tape recently to keep pedestrians off the sidewalk for fear that the bricks would continue collapsing and hurt someone. City officials asked homeowners to come up with a replacement plan by this fall, but residents have shown little motivation. Strachan said none of them has thousands of extra dollars lying around.
Similar brick barriers can be seen in other subdivisions around town, but none of the walls appears to be crumbling so quickly and severely. City councilmember Zim Zimmerman, whose district includes Little Chapel Creek, can’t recall the demolition of any other walls for safety reasons.
The city is limited in its response, Zimmerman told the Weekly in April, since it cannot spend taxpayer money repairing a private structure on private property.
“I’m pretty sure now that anything a developer puts up is going to be inspected,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously, the [Little Chapel Creek] developer is long gone, and even if he was around he would deny anything was done wrong. The statute of limitations is probably way gone by now.”
Hogan suspects that city officials are taking a hard stance against providing any financial help to property owners.
“If we were the only wall they had to deal with like this, we might get some help with demolition and public works,” Hogan said. “But what they are really fearful of is that there are more walls in this predicament, and they don’t want to set a precedent.”
The homeowners say the city should pay for part or all of the costs to replace the wall. Some residents bought their properties long after the wall was built. Strachan, for instance, bought his house in 2013. The person who sold Strachan the house did not tell the new owner that the fence was his financial responsibility. Other homeowners tell similar tales, Hogan said.
“The hardest part to swallow is the demolition cost of this wall,” Hogan said. “That is the most expensive part of it, tearing down this dilapidated wall.”
Several contractors have made bids. One contractor wanted $170,000 to tear down, remove, and rebuild the wall. At that rate, the 15 homeowners could be expected to pay an average of more than $10,000 each.
“People were not prepared for this,” Hogan said. “You are talking about second or third property owners who never understood that was their fence.”