4800 Fournace & 5901 South Rice – Development & Apartments – Undermining Residents and Our City of Homes?

UPDATE: A second workshop is to be scheduled during the week of October 28, 2019, with a public hearing to follow during the week of November 18, tentatively. The Commission would then vote at their December 12, 2019, meeting.

Portion of Warranty Deed

Find recent Environmental Assessment reports on the City of Bellaire website: https://www.bellairetx.gov/DocumentCenter/Index/825    

“There are 82 monitoring wells on the property, and the last report that I found on the website said that 41 showed contamination,” said Bellaire resident Charles Platt at the July 11, 2019, P&Z meeting, referencing the TCEQ website and study.  Nothing was decided, major issues are building height, apartments, and the environmental situation (underground water contamination, VOCs, radiation reports) on the property and lack of reports or studies from the developer.

Other issues include tall buildings adjacent to homes, property values, traffic, crime, City infrastructure, and schools.  Some people spoke in favor but most speakers opposed the development.  Written comments are accepted until further notice.   Email: zoning@bellairetx.gov

Feeling secure about your investment in your home in Bellaire?  How would you feel about a 6-level concrete parking garage on the other side of your back fence?  Maybe a view of the 7-story apartment building across the street?

That green blur behind those buildings? It’s full of Bellaire homes. No view of the rear of this planned development is included in the application. That’s where the multi-story garages will be built.

That’s part of what is being proposed in the latest rezoning applications for 4800 Fournace, the old Chevron property.  Five applications have been submitted to Planning and Zoning for the July 11, 2019 meeting.  The complete agenda and applications can be found at the end of this post.    

After the Chevron land and existing office buildings were purchased in 2018 by SLS West Loop LP, headed by Danny Sheena, special use permits were approved to allow for multi-tenant office use in the original office buildings and to construct a 4-story garage on the site adjacent to those buildings.  Most space in those buildings remains vacant.

Tamarisk street is on the right side of the photo, Cunningham Elementary is across the street to the lower left.

The developers want to:

Amend Bellaire’s Zoning District Map for 5901 South Rice Avenue, 9.6 acres: Change to CMU OR PD – Mixed-Use

Amend Bellaire’s Zoning District Map for 5000 Fournace Place, 3.15 acres: Change to CMU THEN TO PD –  Multi-Family Apartment – Height to 85 feet

Specific Use Permit for 5901 South Rice Avenue & 5000 Fournace Place – Height to 85 feet

Specific Use Permit for 5901 South Rice Avenue – Movie Theater

Specific Use Permit for 5901 South Rice Avenue – Athletic Club

View the Application Details here.

*NOTE: Due to underground contamination Chevron and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality do not allow single family homes on the land and no residential units with first floor ground level uses other than parking. Thus the apartments are in a suspended structure.

Click to Enlarge

No upscale community in the Houston area permits commercial or multi-family adjacent to residential.  That’s why we have zoning and deed restrictions.  Remember the Ashby high-rise?  Residents stopped it for now with a lawsuit.  Tanglewood homeowners are currently suing a developer over a proposed high-rise on San Felipe.  Until 2014 Bellaire was in this premier group. 

The Rice Village?  It’s in Houston.  West University zoning does not permit multi-family and nothing taller than 2 1/2 stories except for the elementary school and church on University Blvd.  Yet over the years West U’s property values have surged ahead of Bellaire’s.

We could see thousands of occupants and visitors day and night at this location leading to:

  • Harm to property values in the residential areas affected by this development
  • Harm to Bellaire’s image as a quiet residential haven and a City of Homes
  • Increased noise and traffic in the area
  • Increased demand on City infrastructure, streets, and water and wastewater systems – who pays for street, water, and drainage improvements?
  • Bellaire neighborhoods north of the property virtually cut off from the rest of the City
  • A greater demand for Bellaire police and fire department services
  • A more transient population – an average of 40-50% of tenants move after one year
  • An increase in enrollment in area schools – do we have the space?

What Changed?

In 2014 Planning and Zoning, and then 5 members of City Council (over solid opposition by residents), approved the rezoning of our commercial areas and overturned our long-time protective zoning ordinances in favor of the latest trends – mixed-use, multi-family, vertical housing. Whatever seemed to be the flavor of the month.  Prior to this change the only apartments in Bellaire were grandfathered and new multi-family was not permitted.

Combined with the Comprehensive Plan, which can be manipulated to provide support for just about anything the City Manager and City Council want to change, the 2014 rezoning opened a Pandora’s box of possibilities for threats to residential areas, but the most serious change was allowing multi-family developments.  To be clear, fee-simple, single-family townhouses are not considered multi-family.

Now we have a developer who wants to take that rezoning one step further on deed restricted land where the first floor living areas must be elevated due to underground contamination.  And directly adjacent to residential areas of Bellaire.

None of this was allowed as Permitted uses in the zoning for the property when it was purchased in 2018.  Specific uses would allow 6-story office buildings and parking garages, research labs and computer operations.  Similar to what’s there now and not open for traffic and business 24/7.  Find the TRPD and CMU ordinances at the end of this article.

Supposedly Bellaire residents desire smaller quarters as they age or their children leave home, and the only answer is multi-family – which translates to condos or apartments.  Hands up, how many residents want to live in an apartment next door to 3 loud college students or a barking dog?  Or both?

So that desire may be true for Senior or Assisted Living developments, but that’s not being specified for this project. 

Experience tells us that apartments, retail establishments, and parking lots may cause an increase in crime and a need for additional security.

Condominiums? They are often purchased as investments and ultimately end up as rental units. The Bellaire condominium, at the corner of Mapleridge and Jessamine in Houston just west of the Library, contains 27 units. Only 10 are homesteaded as owner occupied. The remaining 17 are rentals.  And apartments are often converted to condos.

Do Bellaire Residents Understand Or Appreciate Their Zoning?

Take a good look at the areas across Chimney Rock, to the west of our City border.  The notorious Gulfton/Renwick region in Houston, which borders the Shenandoah subdivision, was once full of yuppies living in elegant apartment complexes. The Shenandoah homes were more desirable and more expensive than those in Bellaire. That is no longer the case.

Sharpstown Mall was new, popular, and contained upper end department stores, and in the new Sharpstown subdivision the homes were also more expensive than in Bellaire.  Home prices have declined and the Mall was replaced by the Mercado at PlazAmericas and an open-air market.

Why Did Bellaire Thrive While These Other Areas Declined?  Zoning.

Bellaire was saved from the same fate as Shenandoah and Sharpstown because of our zoning, which now seems to be constantly under attack, often aided and abetted by by the very Bellaire residents it was enacted to protect. 

If P&Z and/or City Council approves this rezoning it will be a disaster for Bellaire, because no one can feel safe if the rules they live by are no longer honored.  Ask our small businesses in the H-E-B area.

Remember, once this area is rezoned to CMU the developer can include any of the Permitted Uses under the ordinance, no matter what he promises now, with no further approval required by the City.  

The area of Bellaire homes north of this proposed project will effectively be blocked off from the rest of the City, with the Walmart center in Houston to the north, a sound wall along the Loop on the east side, and 85′ buildings and retail to the south,

Prior to 2014 applications for rezoning or special use permits were usually denied as not compliant with the City zoning.   But now the City seems to be seeking these changes, and is willing to change the zoning ordinances to suit the application.

That’s the slippery slope you may have heard about.  It’s time to to protect and conserve our residential areas and our commercial districts.  Return to more restrictive heights and uses, remove multi-family from our zoning, and rebuild our image as a premier city.  At this point P&Z can simply require that the property’s owners comply with the current zoning.  City Council can do the same.

Unless Bellaire residents speak out loud and clear the City Leaders may stand with the developers in another misguided effort to ‘improve’ Bellaire.  Just say no.

Link to Channel 13 new report on July 11, 2019, newscast.

Video of P&Z meeting 8/8/2019

Email the Mayor and members of City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton, at tdutton@bellairetx.gov.  Ask her to forward your email.

Email the Planning and Zoning Commission at zoning@bellairetx.gov

Watch meetings on some cable channels or on your computer at https://www.bellairetx.gov/1504/Watch-Meetings-Live-Agendas-and-Minutes

Planning and Zoning Commission Agenda for July 11, 2019
July 11, 2019 P&Z meeting

Sec. 24-615. – Standards Applicable to All Planned Development Amendments and Specific Use Permits.

A planned development amendment or a specific use permit may be granted and may be allowed to continue if it meets the following criteria and standards and is otherwise in accord with this Code. (Ord. No. 81-066, § 1, 11-2-1981)

(1) The proposed planned development amendment or specific use permit is consistent with the purposes, goals, objectives and standards of the comprehensive plan of the City of Bellaire;

(2) The design of the proposed development, considered as a part of the planned development amendment or specific use permit, minimizes adverse effects, including visual impacts of the proposed use on adjacent properties;

(3) The proposed development will not have an adverse effect on the value of the adjacent property;

(4)  The proposed development will not unduly burden essential public facilities and services, including streets, police and fire protection, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, solid waste disposal and schools; and

(5) The applicant for the development has adequate financial and technical capacity to complete the development as proposed and has met all requirements of this Code, including such conditions as have been imposed as a part of a planned development amendment or specific use permit.

Updated 2021 Bellaire Zoning Map

About Jane McNeel

Bellaire resident since 1956. Email: bellairebcc@gmail.com. Find more information on 'About This Site' in the main menu.
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