I want to preface this article with one piece of information. Many Bellaire residents point to the Rice Village as an example of shops in West University. It is not. The shops and the huge apartment complex are in Houston. West University would not allow that huge mixed-use multi-family structure in their city. In fact no multi-family and nothing over 2 1/2 stories is allowed in West U except a church and the elementary school, both on University Blvd.
Some history on our P&Z. Planning and Zoning ordinances are the result of decisions made by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which is comprised of Bellaire residents who volunteer to serve on the commission and are approved and appointed by the mayor and city council. The final decisions are the charge of the City Council.
Commissioners may be attorneys or artists, oil and gas executives or real estate agents. While their service is valued they are seldom professional city planners or traffic flow analysts. and they rely on the advice of City staff and City management. Their decisions are referred to City Council for final review and approval.
Bellaire has debated the question of protecting residential zoning versus encouraging commercial ventures for 50 years or more. It was a primary cause of the recall election in the 1970s.
For decades the perimeter of the downtown commercial area adjoining residential areas, was zoned CCD-1 and allowed 2 story height (25′) on small parcels and 3 stories (35′) for planned development structures on an acre or more.
CCD-2 allowed taller structures, up to 79 feet plus extras, in the central areas that did not connect to residential, such as the the Bellaire Triangle and Randall’s Center. It made sense. See map at right.
But — zoning in commercial areas of Bellaire was changed in 2014. The Planning and Zoning Commission did away with CCD-1 and CCD-2.
The CCD-1 and CCD-2 zones were combined with RM-F, RM-1, 2 or 3. which were originally a mix of Residential-Commercial Mixed-Use areas along areas of Bissonnet and Bellaire Blvd. The various zoning areas were rearranged into UV-D and CMU.
Maximum commercial building height on a small lot in the UV-D was increased from 2-stories to 40 ft plus a possible 20 ft more (60′). And a Multi-Family component was introduced. Planned development height on minimum one acre was increased from 3-stories to a maximum building height of 79 feet. Plus an additional 20 feet for roof gables, antennas, etc. – up to 99 feet! Possibly 15 feet from residential property lines.
In the CMU the maximum commercial building height on a small lot (up to 1/2 acre) is 40 ft plus a possible 20 ft more (60′). Quite an increase from the earlier 3-story height limit. Areas of 1/2 acre or more now allow a maximum height of 53 ft. plus 20 ft more (73′). The same maximum height remains for Planned development, and the Multi-Family component is included. Again, 15 feet from residential lots.
There is an additional condition for both UV-D and CMU Planned Developments: Requests for additional height beyond the allowances provided shall require approval of a specific use permit. So even taller structures are possible.
These zoning changes were approved by City Council in 2014 on a 5 to 2 vote. I can assure you that no one who voted for this change, whether on P&Z or City Council, was affected by this change. They won’t suffer the consequences if a 6-story apartment or condo building is built along the side or rear of their home. You can find the rezoned areas on the map.
Meanwhile upscale communities in the Houston area – West University, Southside Place, the Memorial Villages – continue to protect their residential areas from this sort of intrusion by commercial or multi-family structures.
This is about more than “not in my backyard”. This is about the future of Bellaire and the property values of our homes. Poor choices by City leaders affect us all.
Email the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton, at email@example.com
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.