“The plan takes care of “the basics” by repeatedly reinforcing the fundamental importance of neighborhood integrity in the City of Homes, as well as the priority residents place on parks and recreation opportunities, safe streets, and preservation of a small-town atmosphere amid a vast metropolitan region.” Excerpt from the updated City of Bellaire Comprehensive Plan in 2015.
For years one of Bellaire’s biggest draws has been that, unlike Houston, we have zoning.
Lately, though, the City administration and City Council seem more wedded to the Comprehensive Plan. If the Comprehensive Plan doesn’t suit their purpose, they change the Plan. They call it ‘Updating the Plan’ and it has become the guiding light of this city manager and city council. If zoning stands in the way, then they change the zoning ordinances.
Thanks to the Comprehensive Plan the downtown area from the north side of Bellaire Blvd to Spruce (UVD), along all of Bissonnet plus the areas fronting the south side of Bellaire Blvd from South Rice west to Ferris (CMU), were rezoned in 2014, allowing taller and more intrusive commercial developments adjacent to residential properties, including mixed-use multi-family that could include apartments and condominiums. UVD_CMU Zoning Letter 2014
And the Plan’s ‘recommendations’ are costing Bellaire taxpayers a lot of money and stress, from the new municipal facilities to the new water meters to the fancy new ‘streetscape’ that Council approved for Spruce and Fifth in the H-E-B area. All financed with debt. Then there are the branding study, pathways plans and stand-alone sidewalks – stressful, though these have been ‘shelved’ for now.
Until the past 10 years or so the Plan was seldom mentioned in City matters and few residents knew it existed. Over the years an occasional Town Hall meeting was held to review or update it. I remember early meetings where one consultant’s suggestion was to pave over the ditch along the railroad tracks to provide a jogging path. Another suggestion was to close off downtown between Bellaire and Bissonnet, make it a pedestrian-only area. Neither suggestion went any further.
City of Homes – A Good Sign
Back then our slogan was The City Of Homes, which created instant appeal to folks looking for a safe, quiet place to live. They found a town with good schools, well-maintained neighborhoods, and a few nice city parks, including two with swimming pools. We had reliable police and fire departments, our own public works department, a well-maintained infrastructure, the Library and the Little League. The business community offered a variety of small businesses to provide products and services to residents.
Bellaire’s close-in location was a great selling point, too, and our small-town atmosphere. City Councils focused on local matters, occasional bond issues, and prudent cost containment. There were the annual budgets with attention to budgetary restraint.
The only apartments allowed in Bellaire had been grandfathered, and new multi-family projects (apartments and condominiums) were not allowed. There are reasons why upscale communities do not allow apartments or condos in close proximity to residential areas. Unless carefully developed to accommodate certain segments of the population, the elderly or the disabled, for instance, they are usually occupied by a transient population. The owners may be investors and/or out-of-town limited partnerships or real estate investment trusts.
So thanks to our location, schools, municipal services, and the fact that zoning protected our neighborhoods, housing prices continued to rise and builders began to prosper with the increase in new construction. Bellaire residents felt secure in their investment in Bellaire.
Here’s the thing – all this progress in Bellaire occurred without expensive aquatic centers or cute boutiques and sidewalk cafes. People didn’t move to Bellaire over the last 100 years because of ‘streetscapes’ or the Holly Street trail, sidewalks or pathways. We didn’t need to copy other cities, we took care of the basics and folks wanted to live here.
Why the rush and the expense to turn Bellaire into something it’s not, has never been? One Bellaire resident calls the trend ‘Sugar Landification’. Why have our longtime motto and city logo fallen out of favor with this City Council and City Manager? What’s wrong with the City of Homes?
Our very location enables residents to enroll in courses through Bellaire Rec or at the Y on Stella Link, to lunch at Betsy’s or Café Express, the Bellaire Coffee Shop or Bistro Menil. We can shop in the Galleria, Meyerland, or Rice Village, visit major museums and entertainment venues. They’re just minutes away.
Out of curiosity I checked out West University’s Comprehensive Plan. It’s 34 pages long. Bellaire’s is 122 pages. Find links to both at the end of this article. Food for thought?
We’re still recovering from the severe floods of the past few years, and our housing stock is in a state of flux. And yet the City Council will consider re-zoning a residential lot to commercial use on Bellaire Boulevard in a few weeks, even though the request failed at the Planning and Zoning meeting. It’s not zoned for commercial use, but City staff said the application was “in consistency with the Comprehensive Plan”. Creating another contentious issue for Bellaire residents.
Maybe it’s time for Bellaire to put aside City Council’s interpretation of the Comprehensive Plan and get back to basics – our homes, our neighborhoods, and our investment in the City of Homes. What do you think?
Bellaire’s Bonded Debt will be about $123 million at the end of FY2019
You can email the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton, at firstname.lastname@example.org and request that she forward your email.