A Streetscape Behind a Multi-Story Grocery Store? Why?

The mess on Fifth between Bissonnet and Cedar. Excavator in pool of standing water, access to Bissonnet blocked. Notice the Cedar street sign at lower right.  Click to enlarge.

Construction is underway on Fifth St. alongside H-E-B.  Promoted by the  City Manager and approved by 6 members of City Council, the City of Bellaire decided to narrow 60 foot wide commercial streets to 26 feet wide (about the width of your residential street).  The affected areas are lined with local businesses.  Traveled every day by 18-wheelers and delivery trucks! 

Millions are being spent to beautify these commercial back streets, nothing for our major thoroughfares – Bellaire Blvd, South Rice Avenue, or Bissonnet.  And those local businesses are in trouble, but then, that’s apparently the plan.  Drive them out on the taxpayers’ dime, make room for nicer, newer businesses.  Maybe.

This is shameful.  City Council members Verma, Pollard, Pappas, Fife, Montague and Mayor Friedberg, lead by the the City Manager, are destroying one of the most functional areas of our central downtown, turning it into a dangerous bottleneck that will stifle traffic flow.  For what?  Some fairy tale vision of a mini-Galleria or Highland Village?  Or 6-story apartments backing up to Bellaire residences?  Someone had better take a good look at the rear of H-E-B , across from one block of the proposed ‘streetscape’.

At this point it’s still possible to stop this, to simply reconstruct the streets and add improved drainage.  Save the City $500K, maybe a million dollars, and support our longtime businesses.  Two businesses on Spruce have already moved out thanks to poor choices by 6 members of the current City Council.  Keep that in mind, there’s an election coming in November.

60′ wide street narrowed to 26′ – along the rear of H-E-B!

The $5.2 million project budget for Spruce/Fifth and Maple/Bolivar was approved by Bellaire City Council on February 18, 2019.

The construction contract for Spruce and Fifth alone is $2.5 million.  Add at least half of the  million dollars in engineering contracts and you’re at $3 million dollars, which includes $360K for the landscaping alone.

The plan includes a ‘streetscape’ – 7-foot wide sidewalks, angled public parking, irrigation systems, landscaping, fancy lamp posts and trees, moving the utilities, etc.  In commercial service areas along side and behind a large 2-1/2 story grocery store.

This streetscape will:

  • Narrow commercial thoroughfares traveled every day by large delivery trucks and 18-wheelers, including all the H-E-B deliveries.
  • Endanger pedestrians walking across streets to get to businesses.
  • Obstruct private business parking lots by installing public parking.
  • Make deliveries to businesses difficult or impossible.
  • Leave little or no room to maneuver large trucks or emergency vehicles. There are no fire lanes.
  • Create hazards to drivers backing out in lanes of traffic.
  • Create hazards to drivers exiting the H-E-B underground parking lot onto Fifth.

The business and property owners agreed long ago on the need for street and drainage reconstruction, however they oppose the streetscape design.  So do many Bellaire residents.  Sidewalks could be incorporated  into existing driveways.

Note H-E-B’s original plan for sidewalks and landscape.

H-E-B chose not to build the planned sidewalks for their store along Spruce and Fifth because they knew the streets would be demolished for the new construction.  They wonder why the City didn’t do this work before the construction of the store.

What about maintaining all this?  We still have flooded homes,  streets in need of repair or replacement, old water pipes and water leaks all over the city, serious problems with drainage and our aging infrastructure. 

To reiterate:

  • On a commercial street that runs behind a large grocery store.
  • In an area that includes small service businesses, not shops or boutiques. 
  • Jax, on the corner of Spruce and South Rice for the past 25 years, will lose parking spaces and so lose business.  They stand to lose all the spaces allowed in the street, since that area will be become public parking and open for use by anyone, not just customers.
  • Same thing for other businesses on these streets, many in business for 25 years or more.
  • The value of a commercial property will decline if a business can no longer provide on-site parking for customers.  Think of Rice Village along Rice Blvd without the pull-in parking spaces in front of the businesses.

One train of thought says that this is a plan to drive out the businesses so that a developer can build multi-story apartments and condos along the north side of Spruce.

The City could have worked with the property owners on Spruce and on Fifth to rebuild driveways with sidewalks added (there are designs for that), even install tree wells for trees and plantings during the street construction.  Work with long time businesses to improve the downtown area, as recommended in the Comprehensive Plan:

Offer mini-grants to existing commercial property and business owners to help finance building façade improvements, enhanced landscaping, or other site upgrades that might not otherwise occur where no construction activities are planned that would trigger compliance with newer development standards.

Provide special outreach and attention to established “mom and pop” businesses long patronized by Bellaire residents in the City Center area to help them make the transition and maintain their presence in a revitalizing City Center.”

If you voted Yes for the $54 million dollar 2016 Bonds for Better Bellaire did you expect to bring harm to our longtime businesses?   Give this some thought, because the City Manager and City Council are discussing  another $47 million bond issue for 2019 or 2020!   

Bellaire’s Debt will be $129.8 million at the end of FY2019
Is it time for Bellaire to get back to basics?  Read more here.

Two lanes now. Half of the street turns into parking.

A future ‘streetscape’ cafe view of rear of H-E-B?