As enrollment at Texas Christian University continues to rise, a nearby neighborhood is taking a fresh look at its zoning regulations — and how to ensure groups of college students don’t move in next door. 

Ryan Place, a neighborhood in south Fort Worth spanning across 8th Avenue and College Avenue, was developed in 1911. Now, its residents are faced with the challenge of adapting to changing times. 

While area demographics have changed and more college students are moving into the area, the neighborhood’s zoning has remained the same. As a result, dozens of lots have multifamily zoning, which city staff warned residents could become the target of developers seeking to make student housing in the neighborhood. 

“When you have college housing that’s plopped down next door to a home with a mom and dad and two kids, or whatever the situation is, it creates problems,” Chris Gee, president of the Ryan Place Improvement Association, said.

These sorts of developments — where multiple, unrelated students live together in a single building — are referred to as ‘stealth dorms.’ In years past, the Fort Worth City Council has tried to stop the spread of these stealth dorms, including changing the maximum occupancy in TCU-area single family homes from five to three people and changing multi-family zoned properties into single family inside of other neighborhoods.

A proposal under consideration in Ryan Place would do the latter by changing many of the current multi-family zoned lots in the neighborhood into single family. Residents have until June 9 to provide feedback to the city, and zoning officials will present the proposed map to the City Council on June 20. From there, council members will meet again June 27 to vote on whether to send the proposal to the zoning commission. The final City Council decision will be made Sept. 12.

“It’s about making sure that (the zoning) is cohesive and holistic and that we’re protecting the character and the integrity of our neighborhoods,” Elizabeth Beck, the District 9 council member who represents Ryan Place, said.

Rezoning years in the making

Discussions over how to update neighborhood zoning began in earnest November 2022, Gee said. There, he said, Beck brought up the idea of council-initiated zoning in order to protect the nature and character of the neighborhood.

The idea first came to Beck after she dealt with a zoning case in Ryan Place and saw the current zoning map, which includes a large swath of multi-family zoning on the neighborhood’s western edge.

“The western edge is where you see smaller homes, and a lot of them belong to working, middle-class residents,” she said. “I wanted to make sure we weren’t displacing anyone.”

Gee continued discussions with Beck and city staff in the new year, culminating in a public neighborhood meeting May 15 to gauge public sentiment over the proposed changes. Overwhelmingly, he said, residents were in favor of rezoning lots that, under current zoning, could host stealth dorms and other student housing. 

“Just because we live (in Ryan Place) doesn’t mean we don’t drive into other areas of Fort Worth and other neighborhoods,” Gee said. “And we’ve seen that type of housing and development we’ve seen and heard from other residents about how that has impacted them and that’s something that we’re trying to protect our neighborhood from.”

There are some duplexes currently in the neighborhood, Gee said, and the current use of a duplex would be grandfathered in if the rezoning effort is successful. If the duplex site was part of the rezoning to single family, and it sustained serious damage and needed to be demolished, whatever was built next on the site would need to abide by single family zoning regulations. 

There were some brief concerns about the future of similar developments that were brought up at the May 15 meeting, Gee said.  

“There are members of the community that do some development at Ryan Place, and I think they were a little bit curious as to how that process would impact them,” Gee said. 

Catching up to other neighborhood regulations

Other neighborhoods near TCU are included in a residential district referred to as the ‘TCU Residential Overlay’, which established limits and special requirements on property uses within its boundaries. Fort Worth City Council approved the measure to combat stealth dorms, but at the time, not every neighborhood wanted to be included.

Current neighborhoods in the district include Berkeley Place, Park Hill, University Place, Paschal Heights, University West, Colonial Hills, Tanglewood, Westcliff, Westcliff West, Bluebonnet Hills and Bluebonnet Place.

Ann Zadeh, a former District 9 council member who was in office when the residential district was established, said she wasn’t sure why Ryan Place wasn’t included initially, but that it was likely because the neighborhood hadn’t seen a surge of student housing being built like others near TCU. 

“The neighborhoods that were immediately close to the university were actually experiencing the scraping of single family homes and building of five-bedroom, five-bath, high-density stealth dorms,” she said. “I think they were just trying to not have (the zoning area) get too big, and only do it in places that were experiencing that.”

Beck said the proposed rezoning of Ryan Place will help ensure that the historic neighborhood doesn’t suffer the same fate as Frisco Heights, another nearby neighborhood. There, dozens of single-family homes were demolished in favor of student-geared duplexes. In 2014, Historic Fort Worth went so far as to add all far-south neighborhoods surrounding TCU to its endangered places list

“It’s not about the rentals. It’s about that density, and about how those types of developments are typically student housing,” Beck said. “And they’re big. They pack students in. And so I think that’s not what the neighborhood is looking for.”

Zadeh agreed, and said that the problem isn’t necessarily about students moving into local neighborhoods. Instead, the problem arises when developers make housing that only attracts students — rooms without their own kitchens and common areas, that may be off-putting to other residents looking to rent an apartment in the area.

She said when it comes to high-density housing, picking a good location is key. High-density student housing doesn’ really make sense in a neighborhood that has been developed primarily as single family, she said, but could be an asset on the outskirts of those areas. 

“I personally think that looking at having a transition of more density along areas that are along more busy arterial roads, where people are not necessarily interested in living in a single family home that faces onto a busy arterial, is a good planning policy,” she said.

Shifting neighborhood demographics

Ruth Karbach, 79, has lived in Ryan Place for 45 years. In that time, she said, she’s seen dramatic demographic shifts to the neighborhood.

“When we moved here, we were in our mid 30s,” she said. “You had to go at least a block and a half to even find anybody with a child, because most of the people in the neighborhood were senior citizens who had lived long term in their home.”

Now, Karbach said, it seems as if every other household has a young family living in it. That change is a positive in her view — and in some ways, increasing TCU enrollment is, too.

She’s seen many TCU graduates move into the neighborhood and start families after graduation, she said. 

“They really like being here near the university, mainly because of sports, I think,” she said. “I think we have a generation that has more affiliation toward their university than we did in my day, in the 60s, when everything was about revolution.”

Street signs intersect in the Ryan Place neighborhood. (Emily Wolf | Fort Worth Report)

Several properties near her home are also rented out to TCU students regularly, Karbach said. Some are respectful neighbors; others throw late-night parties and take up the entire street’s parking. One year, she said, a few girls from TCU’s volleyball team lived next door.

Because neighborhood landlords have been willing to rent single-family homes to groups of three or fewer TCU students, Karbach said she hasn’t really seen stealth dorms gain a foothold in the neighborhood — yet.

“We have had attempts at stealth dorms, though,” she said. “I know there was a recent one, where a man started building a home on the west edge of the neighborhood, and it all looked legit until suddenly we saw how many doors there were.”

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via TwitterAt the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Noncommercial entities may republish our articles for free by following our guidelines. For commercial licensing, please email

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Round Rock, Texas, she spent several years at the University of Missouri-Columbia majoring in investigative...