West Fort Worth homeowner Amanda Clark and her husband repeatedly find themselves picking up trash that blows into their Homestead neighborhood property located on a cul-de-sac. They’ve picked up dangerous items like construction nets, boards full of nails and rusty saw blades among the trash bags and cardboard boxes.
The culprit? Rapid housing development across the creek, they said. Trash remains uncontained and ends up in fences, on sidewalks and in open fields. Residents also say they are dealing with noise disturbances from large construction trucks driving to their sites in the early morning hours.
“It would be nice if they would at least come back and clean up,” she said. “Some of this stuff has been there for two years since we moved in.”
Residents in far west Fort Worth said they want to see the city hold developers accountable in keeping their construction site clean and reducing noise disturbances. But vague city ordinance language and minimal action from city staff have left residents feeling that they have to fend for themselves.
John Schedler also lives in Homestead. Large trucks that rumble adjacent to his fence on Chapin Road often awake him as early as 5 a.m., he said.
“They’ve got a lust for growth,” Schedler said. “The cost is not just noise pollution, but pollution in general.”
In an email to the Fort Worth Report, Michael Fuller, director of construction for Meritage Homes — one of the companies currently developing homes in that area — said this issue has come up before. Police told Fuller large vehicles are allowed on the streets, but no actual work on the homes should start until 7 a.m.
Meritage Homes has a trash company come through at least twice a week, Fuller said. The trash company may be called in for additional clean-up days when it’s windier or if residents complain about it, he said.
History Maker Homes, another developer in that area, did not respond to requests for comment.
With rapid growth attracting more developers to the area, sights like these are not uncommon. Despite the city’s passage of a noise ordinance in 2012 to limit disturbances in residential areas, residents say the city’s lack of response to their concerns has left them feeling hopeless.
Schedler has contacted the city and police department to complain about the noise disturbances more than once. On one occasion, an officer told Schedler to try “alternative methods like earplugs” to help block out the noise.
Schedler found the response condescending.
“I’m like, seriously, this is the city of Fort Worth’s response to the noise that’s been generated by these developers and these builders driving up and down through residential neighborhoods is buy earplugs?” he said.
The city’s noise ordinance limits noises to 60 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. in residential areas. During the daytime, the limit is 70.
The ordinance also prohibits certain noises from vehicles that create “loud or unnecessary grating, grinding, jarring, rattling, or squealing noise or vibrations.”
Melinda Ramos, senior assistant city attorney for the city of Fort Worth, oversees land usage and regulatory compliance. She said large construction trucks traveling through or near residential areas to construction sites are not included in that prohibition. They are considered vehicular transportation, she said. Those are exempt from the ordinance’s requirement.
The code also notes the noise must be sustained for at least 30 seconds for the ordinance to be enforced. The highest decibel during that 30-second period is what determines whether a violation has occurred.
As for litter, the city ordinance requires construction sites within the city and sidewalks, streets, alleys and public or private properties in the vicinity of the construction sites to be free of construction trash, litter and debris that is not securely contained.
Residents say the trash is not properly contained and instead ends up in green spaces, sidewalks and flower beds. On many lots, trash is contained within a makeshift metal mesh cage with no lid rather than in a dumpster.
“The builder just dumped a bunch of stuff and they’ve never come back and picked it up after we requested the building company to come back,” Clark said, who lives across the creek from the Meritage Homes development. “The wind just keeps blowing everything over and they took down all the fencing so it just kind of blows everywhere.”
Clark and her husband have also reached out to their neighborhood homeowner association, but to no avail, she said.
When the Fort Worth Police Department receives a noise disturbance call, an officer is dispatched to the location of the call. Daniel Segura, the spokesperson for the police department, said most officers don’t carry a noise meter tool to record the number of decibels of a passing vehicle as noted in the ordinance.
“We don’t have one of those instruments. We’re not issued those,” Segura said. “So if our city ordinance says that certain numbers become an ordinance issue, I don’t have a way of measuring.”
Segura noted some officers have invested in the tool using their own money.
Issuing a citation for a noise complaint also falls on the officer’s discretion, Segura said.
“So it’s not always a black-and-white question,” Segura said.
Ramos said if a resident is not satisfied with the response, they can always go to that officer’s supervisor.
Schedler described the ordinance as “lipstick on a pig” and loopholes make it near impossible for violations to occur.
“Everybody’s always defending the builders and the developers and not stopping them. That’s my problem,” he said. “I don’t understand the willingness to help and to defend the builders and the developers and not the residents.”
For trash issues, residents’ complaints are routed to the code enforcement department’s environmental quality team, said Diane Covey, public information officer for the code enforcement department.
“There’s not a city in the United States that has enough officers to handle what’s out there 24/7,” Covey said. “We rely on residents to be our eyes and our ears. When residents see something, call us or email us, so we can address it. And when residents call it in, it becomes a priority because now we know about it.”
Violators who leave trash and debris to accumulate are issued a warning notice to clean up or perform a specific task within an allotted time frame, according to the city’s code compliance website.
If the issue is not resolved, violators can be issued a citation with a fine of up to $2,000. If it persists, the violation case may be presented to the Building Standards Commission, City Council or district court for action. Only code compliance can get an injunction from the court on this matter if necessary, Ramos said.
“The initial step always is to give the residents or the businesses an opportunity to correct whatever the issue is because not everybody knows all the guidelines,” Covey said.
As development continues, residents say they are left to deal with the unexpected consequences of a fast-growing metroplex.
“The livability cost of this growth lust is making me think about leaving,” Schedler said.