UPDATE 4/17/2021: The Board of Adjustment, by a vote of 6 to 1 at the April 15, 2021 meeting, approved a variance to lot coverage for the Church of Christ. 75% instead of the 50% allowed in the R-3 zoning. Over the protests of local residents. The Board said No a few months ago to O’Reilly’s request to construct a brand spanking new building, but Yes to another parking lot on South Rice Avenue.
For some reason developers, businesses, and organizations tend to purchase properties in Bellaire that are zoned for one purpose, then request that the property be rezoned for a different purpose. One might wonder, why does our City of Homes seem so vulnerable to redevelopment?
The latest P&Z applicant is the Bellaire Church of Christ, located on South Rice Avenue at the corner of Holly Street. The Church purchased a residence at 7911 South Rice, adjacent to the Church parking lot, that had flooded during Harvey.
Once the R-3 lot was cleared the Church property was replatted to incorporate the lot. Now the Church wants to expand the South Rice lot and has applied for a Specific Use Permit (SUP) as required under R-3 residential zoning.
The application contends that the new parking lot is allowed in the R-3 Residential District under a Specific use as a Church. The Church is requesting a variance in lot coverage. They want more parking spaces than are currently allowed by the zoning code. Here’s the application information from the P&Z Public Hearing on December 10, 2020.
The January P&Z meeting agenda will be added here as soon as it becomes available.
The Location For The New Parking Lot
This area of Bellaire suffered serious flooding during Harvey, including along South Rice Avenue, most of Holly St., and a number of homes on Pauline.
The lot is located across the street from the new Bellaire High School and would include some underground detention. The new school will cover more permeable area than the old campus and detention is also included in the high school construction.
The question is, how well do these detention/drainage systems work in a serious flood in an area so close to the Bayou? Here’s a link to the website of the company that manufactures the detention chambers, which are specified as SC-740. Note that these systems require inspection and maintenance. Stormtech Products
The image shows the original house and trees on the lot. Sadly, most of the tress are gone, and just three trees remain along the perimeter.
New home construction would probably have resulted in a similar loss, but while there have been new trees planted around many new residences, very few are planted in new parking lots. This would be another sizable parking lot located on a main thoroughfare in Bellaire. A landscape design is included in the application.
The Church and The Variance
Currently parking for the 135 to 150 members of the Church consists of the original South Rice lot, another lot that runs off Pauline St., and parking spaces along Holly St.
According to the Pastor/Elder, Brian Haley, the current parking space is adequate, but he also advised that the Church is considering construction of a new church on the existing Church footprint. He also said they hope the membership will grow to 300.
He explained that the Church is generally used two days a week, Sunday morning for 2 hours and Wednesday evening for 1 hour, and for a few special events during the year. One question asked at the P&Z Hearing was whether any other entities would be using the parking lot, or if the use of the lot is only allowed for the Church. Pastor Haley said the lot would be for Church use only, but later amended that statement to say that they had occasionally allowed Bellaire High School to use the lot
While the R-3 residential ordinance allows 55% lot coverage, our ordinance for off-street parking in such and area stipulates an allowable lot coverage of 50%. This is where the Pastor’s presentation became somewhat confusing. This whole thing is about the need for a variance in lot coverage. Sorry, the blurred graphic at left had to be captured from the P&Z presention. Click to enlarge.
First he stated they were unaware of this 50% requirement when they bought the lot. Then he explained that limitation, even with the the new square footage from the additional lot, would somehow cause the loss of parking spaces. From 74 spaces to 68 spaces. And that they would be unable to sell off the Pauline parking lot to help pay for the new parking lot. That they would spend $1.2 million dollars and lose parking.
Questions from the commissioners elicited more information on the Church.
- Will fill be added to build the lot? Pastor Haley: they would not bring in fill.
- Why do you need additional parking? Pastor Haley: a new church building for the same capacity as the old, 300 people, would now require more parking spaces to meet City code. He then said the new church was a long way off, since it would require another $3 million.
- Essentially you are replacing the Pauline property with the new lot? Pastor Haley: yes, the new lot adds about 30 spaces, or a net 102 spaces without the Pauline parking lot.
- If this lot gets built, no one but the Church will use it? Pastor Haley: that is correct. He then said they had allowed Bellaire High to occasionally use the lot. Typically they chain off the entrances. No parking lot lights.
- Question to clarify the application for the SUP which states for existing building and to construct additional parking. Ms. Parcus: they would have to go through the building plan review process. She also stated that there are no requirements for lights.
- Plans for a new building? Pastor Haley: future plans to build a similar size building for the same number of members. To replace the old building they need the new lot.
- Written comments that were received mentioned that more parking spaces did not seem necessary. Pastor Haley: at one time the Church had about 300 members; recently the membership has been growing again. Attendance has declined during the Covid period. Pre-pandemic the membership was around 110, with visitors maybe 120 to 140. But we want the ability to increase the membership.
- Has there been a drainage review? Ms. Parcus: that will be reviewed. Chair Gordon: as long as the drainage plan follows City mitigation policy there should be no problem.
- Are you planning adding more land? Pastor Haley: we would spend a great deal more and still end up with not enough parking spaces.
- Could applicant apply to the Board of Adjustment for a variance? Ms. Parcus: yes, two options. They could reduce the amount of parking they are requesting for P&Z approval, or they could go to Board of Adjustment to request a variance in lot coverage.
- Did not see in the application that the Pauline lot is essentially a trade, are you planning to sell the Pauline lot? Pastor Haley: that is correct.
- The tradeoff to sell the Pauline property would be for the best? Pastor Haley: definitely, much more aesthetic.
- Are you planning on building your own fences? Pastor Haley: almost certain the fences belong to the residences on the perimeter.
- Then to staff: is there a requirement for the Church to build it’s own fences? Ms Parcus: no regulations if there are no buildings, or since the building (existing Church) is more than 50 feet from the other property lines. But P&Z can add that as a condition to the SUP.
- No fence along South Rice? What about past issues with Bellaire High students loitering on your lot? Pastor Haley: we can certainly address that. When we bought the house the kids were breaking into it, drug paraphernalia.
- Do not want to provide a good place for students to loiter or trespass. Pastor Haley: a wrought iron fence might help but probably not prevent loitering. Ms. Parcus: will check with Police Department.
- What about a setback from the property lines for parking? Ms. Parcus: correct, no setback is required. Pastor Haley: about a 4′ setback is on the plans. Ms. Parcus: P&Z can include as a condition.
- Of Interest: The house to the north of the lot is a sort of special house, it was used as a fund raiser for breast cancer research when first built, and sold for more than $2 million.
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