Fort Worth City Council members will soon see how close people live to a proposed zoning change while they voice their opinions on the case.
The city’s information technology department is close to launching a new tool mapping a public speaker’s address and their proximity to the zoning change request, said D.J. Harrell, director of Fort Worth’s development services department.
Staff won’t be able to verify the accuracy of the addresses, which are self-reported by residents, Harrell said during an Oct. 24 presentation to council members. The maps also won’t include speakers who list P.O. boxes or leave the address section of their speaker forms blank.
Council members have shared concerns about too many people speaking on zoning issues who live nowhere near the affected property, council member Gyna Bivens said.
“We need to be able to give priority to the people who live within that 300 feet to a half mile,” Bivens, who represents east Fort Worth, said.
Regardless of their location, residents will still be allowed to speak on any zoning case they wish to, Harrell said. The city currently notifies property owners who live within 300 feet through a mailed postcard. City staff also install zoning notification signs on the property with a phone number for residents to call for more information.
The additional information will be helpful to council members as they vote on zoning decisions, said council member Charlie Lauersdorf, who represents parts of far north Fort Worth.
“I know it’s self-reported, but from time to time we have some folks that show up that sign up to speak on a topic that they have no idea what they’re speaking about, nor do they even live anywhere near it,” Lauersdorf said. “It helps us have an idea, and it will help us direct residents if they think they have a valid concern.”
The city’s system for notifying residents of proposed zoning changes has come under scrutiny in recent months. Members of the Villa De Leon Condominium Owners Association filed suit against the city in June, arguing city staff did not properly notify residents of a zoning change next door before approving a new downtown apartment complex in late 2021.
City attorneys later acknowledged that condo owners did not receive individual notices by mail as required by state law and local ordinance. Condo owners also alleged that a zoning notification sign was not installed on Samuels Avenue before the 2021 vote.
The case returned to City Council in September, resulting in a unanimous decision to re-approve the 27-unit complex over resident opposition. The condo association’s lawsuit remains unresolved, and both parties are in the process of scheduling a trial, according to Tarrant County court documents.
City Council members also have previously raised concerns about the process for posting signs, citing personal experiences where signs were not installed in time for residents to weigh in on zoning cases.
While posting zoning signs is the norm, Transportation and Public Works staff are not legally required to install signs before City Council votes on a zoning change. If council members request it, Harrell and his staff could again explore requiring developers and property owners to install the zoning notification signs themselves, he said.
Some changes have already been rolled out. The city launched a monthly email newsletter with zoning case information this summer. In addition, city staff are exploring the possibility of adding QR codes to notification signs. The zoning department wants to reach residents in whatever way they communicate, Harrell said.
“We want to provide the QR code for people who want to self-serve and get their own answers, and then those that need to call and then those that need to come down,” Harrell said. “We want to be open for however they want to interact with us.”
Council member Elizabeth Beck thanked Harrell for his efforts to improve the notification system, alluding to the Villa De Leon case in her district.
“I know we had some issues in District 9 that led to folks not feeling like they received proper notice, and this certainly helps us know that when we make a decision, those that have wanted to be engaged in the process have had ample opportunity to do so,” Beck said.
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
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