Facing a contentious vote over a new downtown Fort Worth apartment complex, District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck didn’t mince words. She was going to support the developer’s zoning change request, in no small part due to the conduct of an attorney who accused her office of taking a payoff from the applicant.  

“You certainly don’t want to spit in the judge’s eye right before you’re asking them to make a decision,” Beck said. “And accusing someone of bribery is a very bold and outlandish statement.”

Other council members followed Beck’s lead, unanimously approving Brewer & Hale’s proposal to build a new apartment complex on 521 Samuels Ave. While apartment complexes are nothing new to bustling Samuels Avenue, the Sept. 12 vote marked the latest chapter in a controversial case complicated by an ongoing lawsuit between the city and condo owners opposed to the development. 

Brewer & Hale’s zoning change proposal already earned council approval in late 2021, allowing the developer to build 27 units rather than the eight allowed under its previous zoning designation. 

However, the vote was thrown out after the Villa de Leon Condominium Owners Association sued city officials in June for failing to properly notify condo owners as required by state law and city ordinance. City attorneys later acknowledged that staff didn’t mail individual notices to the condo owners prior to the 2021 zoning hearing, despite the residents living within 300 feet of the zoning change. 

Condo owners say they’re not opposed to development in their neighborhood, but wanted to ensure their voices were heard before Brewer & Hale moved forward with construction. 

Alongside parents of students at Charles E. Nash Elementary School, condo owners like Jenny Stewart objected to the developer’s parking proposal. 

In August, several residents said the plans will lead to more traffic and safety issues on two-lane Samuels Avenue. Brewer & Hale is planning 21 onsite spaces and another 17 spaces in a lot two-tenths of a mile from the apartment complex. 

Stewart is also concerned about the 18-inch setback, or distance, between her condo building and the proposed apartment complex. 

“They have already broken a sewer line, and raw sewage was running across the parking lot in our building,” she said. “They’ve broken a retaining wall. The setbacks are a tremendous problem here because they will not be able to build safely with only an 18-inch setback.” 

Beck previously said parking issues wouldn’t factor into her final decision, but she wanted residents to have the chance to meet with developers about their concerns over setbacks. The Sept. 8 meeting between Brewer & Hale representatives and condo owners was brief and unproductive, said Darin Norman, who spoke Sept. 12 on behalf of the developer. 

“At that meeting, open to addressing valid concerns, Brewer & Hale experienced the type of treatment you might expect from someone who is suing you,” Norman said, noting that the 12-week construction delay is costing developers $36,000 a week. 

Beck asked city staff to conduct a preliminary traffic study, which discovered parking issues at peak times. Outside of those peaks, occupancy rates of available spaces lingered between 16% and 67% full, she said. 

Transportation and public works staff are looking at ways to improve signage and sidewalk ramps near Charles E. Nash Elementary, and will meet with Fort Worth ISD staff to discuss a better path forward for traffic around the school, Beck said. 

While those steps are in motion, Beck said she decided to cut off communication with condo owners following an interaction with their attorney, Van Shaw. After she reiterated to owners that parking issues wouldn’t influence her decision, Shaw sent Beck an email accusing her of receiving money from the developer and using under the table methods, Beck said. 

“You didn’t get the mediation that you wanted from the city, not because I was unwilling to give it or anyone on this dais didn’t want it,” Beck said. “I am sorry that you didn’t get that leverage, but you didn’t get that leverage because of the way that your team acted.” 

Frank Starr, president of the condo owners association, said Beck’s recollection of the email was accurate. Her decision wasn’t surprising, he added. 

“That was an attorney blowing off steam,” Starr said. “The idea that the developer would continue to develop and continue to spend money like that unless they knew they were going to win in the hearing is crazy. There’s no way you would go out and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars if you thought you were going to lose.” 

While the public debate over the zoning change request is over, the lawsuit filed by the Villa de Leon condo owners continues. Tarrant County District Court Judge Melody Wilkinson previously ruled in favor of the condo association, issuing a July order invalidating Brewer & Hale’s 2021 zoning change. Condo owners now hope to recover legal fees and a $25,000 bond through a jury trial set to begin Jan. 8. 

Starr anticipates further litigation related to Brewer & Hale’s construction as they move forward. Workers will inevitably trespass the condo’s property line thanks to the 18-inch distance between the two properties, he said. 

“We’ll enforce the law, we’ll take them to court, and it’s unfortunate that they don’t realize that,” Starr said. “They think they’ve got a huge win here.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

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Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org. Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...

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...