A fight over this south Fort Worth veterans’ housing project has ended up in court

A Fort Worth man is asking a Tarrant County court to weigh in on the city’s decision to approve a zoning change for a veterans housing project in the Rosemont neighborhood south of downtown.

Ricardo Avitia, a leader of the anti-gentrification group Hemphill No Se Vende (Hemphill is not for sale), accuses the city of not following proper procedure and is asking the court to halt all development while adjudicating his claims, according to a petition filed Wednesday in Tarrant County.

The city was not aware of Avitia’s petition until being contacted by the Star-Telegram. Spokesperson Valerie Colaprett wrote in an email: “Based on this petition provided by the Star Telegram, the claims are without merit and the City will defend this lawsuit once served.”

Avitia responded that he was using every avenue available to him under the law.

“Just like the city or any other entity would do the same, because they have the resources to do so,” he said.

Avitia’s suit comes less than a month after the city approved plans by the American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program to convert a church at 4041 Ryan Ave. into 20 units of affordable housing for veterans.

The project is meant to help veterans get stable housing while transitioning out of the military into their next career path, representatives for the San Antonio-based nonprofit told the city council at its May 9 meeting.

The units will all be one bedroom, priced at around $400 to $500 per month, and could be open as early as October, said Steven Gonzalez, a representative for the nonprofit, in an interview ahead of the May 9 council meeting.

Gonzalez wouldn’t comment on Avitia’s petition Friday, but wrote in a text message that his organization’s goal is to create “a safe and supportive community for all,” adding the nonprofit remains dedicated to working with residents to address “any legitimate concerns.”

Roughly 30 Rosemont residents showed up to the May 9 council meeting to oppose the project. They said the developer and a recently deposed neighborhood association president did not do enough to inform the community.

They stressed their opposition was not about the nonprofit’s mission of helping veterans, but more an objection to the specific type of zoning request the American GI Forum was applying for. It would allow for roughly 60-units of housing on the 1.95 acre lot.

Representatives for the nonprofit said this was to allow them to expand their operations if needed, but residents worried this would allow a dense apartment project to be built in their single family neighborhood.

They raised fears of gentrification in a neighborhood where roughly a quarter of residents live in poverty, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Allowing zoning density to enter our neighborhood regardless of the program, however noble it may be, will be the end of our beloved Rosemont,” said resident Loretta Snoke-Huezo.

Several speakers said their neighborhood has long been neglected by the city. The area lacks adequate sidewalks and has flooding problems that need to be fixed before allowing for dense development, Avitia said at the May 9 meeting.

The meeting briefly got derailed when residents objected to representatives from the nonprofit getting extra time to speak in front of the city council.

Avitia shouted from the back of the chamber that the meeting should be shut down, but was removed by Fort Worth marshals.

He later apologized for shouting. He said in a post on Hemphill No Se Vende’s Facebook page that the outburst was a reflection of passion for his community and his frustration with the city.

“We have continually been marginalized, redlined, and discriminated against. These are cold hard facts,” he wrote in the Facebook post.

Mayor Mattie Parker acknowledged the Rosemont residents’ concerns, but said they were unrelated to the veterans housing project.

She promised to do more to address those issues going forward.