Piles of unopened mail and forgotten business cards litter the floors of a vacant home on Carleton Avenue. Neighbors and developers walk carefully through dark hallways, stepping over uneven wood and fallen chunks of ceiling to peer into rooms seemingly frozen in time.
This house was once destined for demolition, part of a controversial attempt to relieve urban flash flooding in west Fort Worth’s historic Arlington Heights community.
After more than a decade of back and forth over how to address the neighborhood’s flooding challenges, the city-owned property and eight other houses — sitting back to back on Carleton and Western avenues — are up for sale.
“I just think it’s a travesty,” said Jennifer Moody, who has lived on Western since 2007. “(The city) bought them at what (homeowners) would have been able to sell them for if they had not flooded, and now they’re going to turn around and potentially sell them for pennies on the dollar to a developer who we have no guarantee of what they’re going to do on them.”
Four years ago, using $3.8 million in city dollars and a $550,000 federal grant, the city began purchasing homes in the center of Arlington Heights. The program offered a clear vision based on detailed flood risk reports: After homeowners voluntarily agreed to sell, the houses would be razed to create a detention pond capable of capturing floodwaters during heavy storms.
Journey of Arlington Heights project
- 2017: City applies for FEMA funding to purchase Arlington Heights homes, leading to 2018 grant.
- October 2018: Staff host community meeting where neighborhood association, residents voice concerns against building stormwater detention pond as planned.
- August 2019-December 2020: City of Fort Worth purchases nine properties through voluntary buyouts with city-only funds.
- May 2022: City hosts community meeting and announces intention to sell properties for redevelopment.
- Fall 2022: City Council approves purchase of two Western Avenue properties with FEMA grant and demolition of homes for green space.
- May 2023: City staff host a community meeting featuring its plan to sell properties.
- August 2023: City puts out initial bid notice.
- September 2023: City holds a pre-proposal meeting and tours for developers to visit homes.
- November 2023: Bid packages are due to the city by the end of the month.
- January 2024: City staff expect to select the winning bid.
The detention basin would lessen the risk to the neighborhood’s most flood-prone homes and the area directly surrounding them, said Jennifer Dyke, Fort Worth’s assistant stormwater management director.
“We decided that we’d done lots of planning and engineering studies, and doing a project to mitigate the flood risk out there, it’s just not feasible,” Dyke said. “It’s very expensive, and these were the homes that just continued to flood over and over again.”
Between summer 2019 and fall 2022, the city bought 11 homes. But, following staunch opposition from homeowners and leaders of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association, city officials abandoned the plan to build a stormwater detention pond. While two houses purchased with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds were demolished and transformed into permanent green space last year, the rest are back on the market.
After closing applications Nov. 30, city officials expect to select a winning bidder as soon as January. The chosen developer must agree to buy all nine properties, elevate homes 2 feet above 100-year flood levels and demonstrate how downstream and adjacent properties will be protected from flooding. All redevelopment of the properties must be completed within four years of closing the sale.
Lori Murray-Bosken, the president of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association, views the redevelopment proposal as a positive step forward. Neighborhood association leaders worried that permanently empty lots would lower property values, hurt the neighborhood’s character and invite crime and homelessness to the area surrounding the detention pond, according to a position statement shared by Murray-Bosken.
The city’s efforts to mitigate flooding in the neighborhood appear to have improved drainage, she said, pointing to the lack of flood damage at the nine homes since the city purchased them.
The neighborhood association “is following the lead of the stormwater department to find a developer to buy these homes in order to keep the area residential, not a stormwater project,” Murray-Bosken said by email.
Across Arlington Heights and especially on the two affected streets, there are “wildly divergent” viewpoints on the project, Moody said. She and her neighbors on Western Avenue have largely supported the stormwater detention plan, while families on Carleton Avenue expressed concern over safety risks for children from drowning, mosquitoes or homeless people camping in the area, she said.
Moody understands the association’s opposition, especially their worry that the city would continue to buy properties if the 11-home detention pond didn’t solve flooding issues. But the city’s other attempts to resolve flash flooding — including monthslong construction projects to build underground stormwater detention — haven’t prevented homes like hers from suffering damage, she said.
“When we’ve had meetings about this, there’s been a lot of conflict and controversy because no one is 100% in agreement as to what direction we want this to go moving forward,” Moody said. “I appreciate what the neighborhood association is doing, but it’s been incredibly frustrating to have them trying to quarterback what’s happening on two streets they don’t live on.”
Years of debate, but no consensus
As far back as 1967, city staff knew the area was flood-prone. Homeowner concerns and flood damage reports only grew as development along Camp Bowie Boulevard and Hulen Street increased concrete surfaces and reduced the amount of green space available to absorb rainwater during heavy storms. An intense flood in 2004 captured attention from the city, which created Fort Worth’s stormwater utility two years later.
Before pursuing the acquisition plan, the city spent more than $1 million on multiple engineering assessments and consulted with a community stakeholder group. The goal was to identify solutions that were effective, affordable and acceptable to the community, Dyke told residents at a May 2022 meeting.
Stormwater crews undertook other projects to address flooding issues between 2012 and 2016, including building a detention pond near the Walgreens at Hulen Street and Bryce Avenue. Staff also constructed more flood storage under Bryce, Western and Ashland avenues.
However, flooding continued to plague the area even after construction was completed. After a June 2016 storm caused significant home and car flooding on Western Avenue, city leaders decided to pursue grant opportunities to acquire properties for flood storage.
Homeowners who experienced persistent flooding on Western and Carleton avenues supported the acquisition plan, with one homeowner telling WFAA his home couldn’t be purchased fast enough.
“I can’t speak for the other properties, but we are threatened every time a heavy rain occurs,” said Ken Kirkwood, who eventually sold his Western Avenue home to the city in 2019.
City officials felt that the risk to residents was urgent enough to move forward with voluntary buyouts without the community’s consensus, Dyke told residents in May 2022. By 2018, the city obtained a FEMA grant to purchase properties for green space and stormwater detention.
The idea proved unpopular among neighborhood leaders. At an October 2018 public meeting, several residents urged officials to pursue all other alternatives — including pipe replacement, development regulations and financial assistance for flood-proofing homes — before purchasing properties.
“Our neighborhood organization is mandated to look at the big picture and support what we believe is best for the entire community, for the greater good,” the neighborhood association’s position statement reads. “Monies used for buyouts and teardowns on Western and Carleton will do nothing to address the flooding that occurs in the two other watersheds in our neighborhood.”
The city ultimately decided not to move forward with the detention pond plan, instead choosing to offer the properties up for redevelopment. The reversal was the result of significant community concerns and conversations among city leadership, Dyke said.
More intense flooding is expected to hit Tarrant County. Join us Oct. 18 – we’ll ask the experts what the city is doing to ensure resident safety.
“They’re a very close-knit community. They wanted those homes, they wanted the people there,” Dyke said. “We’ve got both sides out there. We have people that want the detention; we have people that don’t want the detention. We’ve talked to the community a lot, and it’s hard because there’s a group on each side that has very valid concerns.”
Property sale prompts new concerns
The move to sell the properties has provoked new questions for homeowners. After holding a pre-proposal meeting for developers, city staff opened all nine homes to tours on Sept. 20.
Curiosity drew residents like Gwen Holder to sign a waiver and peek inside. Holder, who strongly opposed the acquisition plan, worries a buyer will tear down homes built in the 1920s and 1930s in favor of a new build.
“They don’t care about preserving the neighborhood,” Holder said. “Nobody really cares except the people that are from Arlington Heights.”
While she would have rather seen the houses torn down for a stormwater basin, Moody wants the city to sell to a thoughtful developer with an eye for preserving historic homes.
But she is fearful that the city will accept a low bid that results in a developer quickly flipping the properties and selling them off without concern for the neighborhood. The chosen buyer must hold a community meeting to discuss plans with Arlington Heights residents, according to the city’s bid package.
The nine homes’ market value was appraised at $3.83 million in July. However, an appraiser put the nine properties’ “reconciled disposition value” at $819,031. The special valuation takes into account the city’s requirements for redeveloping the properties, including elevating the homes.
“I worry they’re going to get a bid for a dollar and say, ‘OK, that’s great, we get to wash our hands of this,’” Moody said.
The developer must follow the city’s rules, but that doesn’t mean the individuals who purchase homes from the developer will, Moody said. She worries that new owners will try to expand driveways and other concrete surfaces, exacerbating the area’s existing flooding problems.
“Those individuals can do what they want,” she said. “This isn’t going to fix the problem if the problem is permeable space.”
A community group made up of property owners on Western and Carleton avenues, along with neighborhood association members, will review bids and grade each proposal for how closely it meets community preferences. Those preferences include tree preservation, permeable pavement and the use of rain barrels and bioswales, a runoff or diversion trench usually planted with turf.
If the city doesn’t receive viable bids, Dyke and her staff will work with the community to develop a stormwater detention basin incorporating all 11 properties. The city can’t control what future owners will do with the properties, Dyke said.
Under the terms of the bid package, two properties on Western Avenue will remain city-owned green space to meet FEMA requirements after the nine other homes are sold. Staff will mow the properties, though a future homeowner could use them as yard space if they agree to maintain it.
The city’s decision to sell the properties respects the significant community interest in redevelopment, Dyke said. And, coastal communities, including in Houston, have seen success with elevating homes, she added.
“If it does move forward, I think it’ll be a great case study to see what this results in, and maybe an idea for other homeowners who want to move forward and elevate their properties,” Dyke said.
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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