Hemphill residents ask City Council to deny new townhome project after tense debate

Tempers flared during a community meeting Thursday night over proposed townhomes along the Hemphill Street corridor, with residents recommending the Fort Worth City Council block the development.

The meeting, held by the Hemphill Corridor Development Collaborative, comes after some residents said there needed to be more community input on the zoning request that would allow the project to move forward.

The 24 two-story attached townhomes would be built on the corner of Hemphill Street and West Morningside Drive — south of downtown Fort Worth and west of Interstate 35W.

Fort Worth-base Townsite Company proposed the zoning change for the project, saying the townhomes would be rented and would offer “another residential option at a lower price point than the larger rental projects in the area.”

The location was previously a used car lot and is now a COVID-19 testing site.

Some residents of the predominantly Hispanic area have distrusted development along the corridor, challenging what they view as gentrification since at least 2021.

Ricardo Avitia of Hemphill No Se Vende said the pending rezoning request was not properly advertised on the property site, and residents were not given enough opportunity to weigh in.

City ordinance states that a written notice of public hearings of proposed zoning changes “shall be sent to owners of real property lying within 300 feet of the property upon which the change in classification is proposed” no less than 10 days before the hearing. Notices can be sent or posted.

According to the city’s zoning report, mail notifications were sent to residents within 300 feet of the site and notifications were emailed to surrounding organizations. These were sent on Dec. 30.

The city also is required to erect at least one sign on property proposed for rezoning at least 10 days before a public hearing. There was no signage on the Hemphill site around the time of a zoning commission meeting Jan. 11, which angered residents.

During the Jan. 11 meeting, a city lawyer said the lack of signage does not disqualify the zoning change.

At the Thursday community meeting, District 9 Councilwoman Elizabeth Beck said she would heavily consider the neighborhood before voting for any changes.

She said she would consider a continuance of 30 days if residents felt they needed more time to discuss the project.

Beck told the Star-Telegram that she wants to ensure that the city follows through with properly labeling zoning changes, but she said there is no malicious intent from the city or the developer throughout the process.

Beck left the meeting early to participate in Tarrant County Homeless Coalition’s annual count of unsheltered people Thursday night. Her departure bothered some residents in attendance, setting the stage for a contentious debate.

Some residents oppose the townhomes because of concerns about rent prices and what that would mean for the future of the area. Residents fear the townhomes could affect property values of nearby homes and drive out residents.

TownSite co-founder Mary Nell Poole attended Thursday’s meeting and said that the rent prices would be in a medium range compared to other nearby townhomes. She couldn’t offer specifics.

Residents commented that they wanted a price tag before they can move forward, something that Poole said she could try to obtain.

Other residents were still concerned about the lack of signage prior to the zoning commission meeting and wanted a flat-out denial of the rezoning to start the process over. Poole said that wouldn’t be feasible.

While some residents said they preferred a continuance of 30 days to continue to discuss the merits of the project, the majority of people at the meeting voted to recommend the City Council oppose it.

The zoning change request could go for a vote before the council on Feb. 14. Beck still has the option to continue the case for 30 days.