There are no easy parts to any city’s property zoning process, only some parts that are harder than others. Tensions are usually high because property rights are so important. Fort Worth’s City Council, staff and Zoning Commission learned that lesson anew during the past three months as they worked through a contentious definition of what constitutes a “single housekeeping unit.” With a unanimous council vote Tuesday night, they reached their goal — admirably.
The outcome involved compromise from council members, property owners and neighborhood groups. People from opposing sides who spoke to the council Tuesday indicated they were pleased. Defining a “single housekeeping unit” is important because that’s a key zoning ordinance term that protects the heart of the community, its single-family neighborhoods. Up to five unrelated people in a single housekeeping unit may occupy a home in a single-family neighborhood. That gives owners of rental property greater ability to find tenants than if they could rent only to families.
In December, the council lowered the limit for unrelated people living in TCU-area homes from five to three. The very difficult discussion, lasting six months, targeted “stealth dorms” for students. The need for a definition of “single housekeeping unit” was apparent even then. The city staff admits dropping the ball when, in July, it sent a proposed definition for Zoning Commission approval without notifying all interested parties. Council members heard lots of complaints and, in August, sent the issue back to the commission for more work.
Things got back on track with a public meeting later that month, another Zoning Commission hearing in September, and lots more work by the staff to hear complaints and refine the proposal. Rental property owners hit the roof over “presumptions” considered and initially approved by the commission. Those steps would have automatically ruled out as single housekeeping units any homes with keyed or deadbolt locks on interior doors, homes where members of the unit changed significantly in a 12-month period, or where members used a different address for such things as voter registration or driver’s license. The final staff recommendation tossed out those presumptions and made other changes in the definition to appease neighbors and rental property owners.There were cheers in the council chambers when the deal was approved.