Why Has Bellaire, Our City of Homes, Become A Target For Commercial Developers?

Scan the most recent posts on this site.  You’ll find articles on developer requests to rezone numerous Bellaire properties.  Not requests to construct developments that comply with current zoning, but to change it.  These developers want more, in essence to revise Bellaire’s zoning to suit their desires.

What’s even more troubling is when City staff and our Planning and Zoning Commission seem willing to work with these developers to make those changes.  At times the City Manager and City staff utilize portions of the Comprehensive Plan to justify setting aside our zoning ordinances.  But the Comprehensive Plan is just that, a plan – not a mandate.  It’s some people’s vision of a future Bellaire, but not everyone’s.  Zoning comes first.

Keep your eye on the following Bellaire properties:

4800 Fournace the old Chevron/Texaco Research and Development campus sold to a developer in 2018.  Zoned as Technical Research Park District (TRPD).  By 2017 the Comprehensive Plan had been revised, and updated uses included several types of single-family residential uses (downsizing, life-cycle), but multi-family was ruled out.

That was before contamination on portions of that property came to light in the Special Warranty Deed that was part of the sale.  Turns out that no single-family homes can be built on the land.  The first applications by the developer were to rezone to  Corridor Mixed Use (CMU), then on to Planned Development plans to build 85′ tall buildings including a 7-story apartment building.  Adjacent to the neighborhood of homes to the north and across Fournace from homes to the south.  P&Z chose not to approve that plan.  Another proposal will be heard at P&Z on December 12, 2019, and so far it’s not a promising proposal for our neighborhoods.

4301 Bellaire Blvd lies within the Bellaire Boulevard Estate Overlay District (BBEOD), zoned as a low-density residential area on large lots.  

But when a developer who purchased that property applied to the City for a specific use permit to rezone to commercial (CMU) for the construction of a 2-story office building, City staff approved of the rezoning and P&Z voted 4 to 2 to approve the application.  Fortunately City Council voted 6 to 1 against the rezoning at the August 5, 2019, meeting.

6400 West Loop – recently a representative for another developer discussed a possible proposal for a mixed-use building on 2 acres at the southwest corner of Bissonnet and Loop 610, part of an early Planned Development for the AT&T property.  The proposed height was 9 stories, with retail and restaurants.  But the property would first revert back to the Loop 610 District, with a building height limit of 6 stories, and no retail is allowed.  Regardless, the building is already being advertised to attract tenants.  A P&Z hearing on a request to rezone this parcel is scheduled for December 14, 2019.

5001 Bellaire Blvd ChristChurch Presbyterian Church.  Located on approximately 2 acres, the property is zoned residential R-4.  However the realty company’s brochure includes phrases such as “The site provides maximum exposure for retail or medical office building with simple ingress and egress” and “Adjacent new development at Bellaire Blvd. and South Rice Ave. will stimulate continued development in the area, and particularly on the subject site”.  For a property that’s zoned residential?

The City Manager and City Council are pushing for commercial ‘redevelopment’, this has been building for years, and they seem to think commercial development will become a cash cow.  That somehow we’ll turn into Highland Village. That may occur if everything in Houston west of Chimney Rock is razed.  Highly unlikely any time soon.  Meanwhile our image and our property values are still recovering from the Harvey flood.

More Commercial Redevelopment!

Now the small businesses around H-E-B are being squeezed out with the approval of the City Manager and City Council, thanks to the City Manager’s promotion of a $2.5-$3 million dollar beautification project with City bonds.  Their excuse?  It’s in the Comprehensive Plan. That area was rezoned to UV-D in 2014 to allow just about anything to be built there.  You’ve got to wonder which developer is waiting in the wings.  What’s next? Apartments and condos?

I’d suggest that instead of paving over more of our City, we should be focusing on flood mitigation.  Start by reducing the allowable lot coverage and building height for commercial construction, insist on low-rise buildings of 2-1/2 stories or less, and more green space and detention.  

Instead of endangering more Bellaire neighborhoods with commercial intrusion we should promote our City of Homes – our great location, great schools, great services and quiet residential neighborhoods.  Support our small businesses that support local needs – restaurants, grocery stores, haircuts, drug stores, auto repair, etc.

Zoning can provide assurance that Bellaire is still a good investment, that we’re primarily a City of fine homes, not wide open to commercial developers, tall buildings, even apartments.  If zoning changes are considered they should be more protective of our residential areas and our reputation, not less.  

We are losing our small town atmosphere and the camaraderie that accompanies it.  We used to have an Inspection Department (not Development Services) that focused on proper procedures.  They weren’t hired to promote development or rezoning, or to coach developers on how to rework their proposals.  Their job was to assure residents that anything approved by those responsible was done correctly.  That our town and its residents were protected and safe in their major investment – their home.

Bellaire’s Debt is $123.8 million at the end of FY2019, one of the highest per capita in the state.  Another bond issue is under discussion for 2021.Find Bellaire on the Texas Comptroller’s list for 2018; more bonds have been sold since then: https://comptroller.texas.gov/transparency/local/debt/city.php?cityname=Bellaire&citysubmit=GO

Email  the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk and request that it be forwarded: tdutton@bellairetx.gov

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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