How did Keller ISD end up with a motel next to a school? For starters, poor planning | Opinion

When Basswood Elementary School was built in Keller ISD, there was nothing nearby but empty lots and a Home Depot. Now, parents and Keller ISD are fighting a developer and the city of Fort Worth over whether a four-story extended-stay motel should be built just 100 feet away from the school.

So far, construction has been halted, in light of the parents’ outrage, but the matter has yet to be resolved. The conflict highlights a real history of Fort Worth-area schools paying careless attention to zoning.

Concerned parents packed a recent town hall meeting between Keller Independent School District and Fort Worth officials about the plans to build a Studio 6 motel within sight of the elementary school. They cited concerns that the affordable baseline lodgings may attract an uptick in crime and perhaps even human trafficking.

There are several issues here.

Parents’ anxiety is understandable, just from an optics perspective. More traffic and more people coming in and out of an establishment at all hours could present safety issues.

However, Basswood Elementary is in a busy commercial area, amid a slew of eateries and other businesses, from Sonic and Chicken Express behind the building to the car wash and Home Depot on opposite corners. It’s not exactly nestled within a quiet neighborhood. The school was built in 2007, even though it was clear that it would be along a heavily developed major retail corridor.

Construction is underway on an extended stay motel next to Basswood Elementary in far north Fort Worth on Wendesday, Feb. 21, 2024.
Construction is underway on an extended stay motel next to Basswood Elementary in far north Fort Worth on Wendesday, Feb. 21, 2024.

Most school districts try to build schools away from traffic. Keller was careless in building in a commercial area without regard to the future. Planners had to have figured it would grow and develop and it did.

It wasn’t ideal that the area for the school was originally zoned in a commercial area anyway, but building a motel goes a step farther. The Fort Worth City Council approved a zoning change in October 2023 allowing the project to move forward.

The second issue is that Keller ISD officials said they were not aware of the impending build until the plans were drawn — the ground has already been broken and markers are laid down. Project owner Dev Surati got zoning approval for the four-story hotel, which could cost up to $13 million. Surati claimed he followed the city’s process for approval and the school was built in a commercial area — technically, zoned for light industry — hence the nearby Home Depot.

That said, it’s clear that Keller ISD wasn’t paying enough attention, given that it has schools in high-traffic areas. This neglect, combined with parents who don’t know or understand enough about zoning — just what they see across the street — created panic and irrational attacks on the City Council.

The community has an important role to play here. Neighborhood groups need to pay better attention to each piece of property and the city’s Comprehensive Plan as the area develops. One of the primary tasks of such groups is to watch for potential zoning issues. This is why.

Fort Worth City Council member Charles Lauersdorf said that the city reached out to Keller ISD but that school officials were caught off guard by the zoning change. Clearly, there are some communications issues that need to be ironed out. We have to point out: When the city never heard so much as a peep in the form of praise or protest from Keller ISD, they didn’t find that at all suspicious? No one from the city thought to follow up with a phone call or set up a quick meeting — perhaps take a three-minute walk over to the location of the imminent motel together?

The City of Fort Worth could have done better. Officials have said they will review the zoning around other schools and that’s a good step. Solid communication and better planning could prevent future issues like this.

Now, as we see it, Keller ISD has a couple options, and a vital warning to heed: One, purchase the motel land, though it will undoubtedly come at a hefty price. However, the school’s lot is small and it could use more space. The second option is to let it go and ensure that parents, staff and students are aware of security protocols in place and boost them if necessary.

Keller ISD and growing districts in the area should avoid placing schools in random commercial zones, precisely for this reason. It’s not easy; land in this area is at a premium, and schools are built on top of taxable areas on major thoroughfares. Affordable land in a booming area is a tough ask, but Keller ISD should have taken more care.

In the end, this zoning issue is a disservice to the neighborhood and Keller ISD kids who deserve a safe, calm environment in which to learn. The school was poorly planned in the first place, then poorly protected by the district. Years later, parents, students and the district are facing the consequences.

Do you have an opinion on this topic? Tell us!

We love to hear from Texans with opinions on the news — and to publish those views in the Opinion section.

• Letters should be no more than 150 words.

• Writers should submit letters only once every 30 days.

• Include your name, address (including city of residence), phone number and email address, so we can contact you if we have questions.

You can submit a letter to the editor two ways:

• Email (preferred).

• Fill out this online form.

Please note: Letters will be edited for style and clarity. Publication is not guaranteed. The best letters are focused on one topic.