Councilmember Lewis added an agenda item to the September 13, 2022, City Council meeting to call a joint workshop and public hearing before the City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission. Zoning districts under discussion would be the CMU, UV-D, and UV-T.
Find the Agenda Item here Agenda Statement Report – Pdf
The Mayor managed to sideline her request for a workshop on three zoning ordinances with a substute motion to schedule a joint workshop with P&Z to initiate a review of the 122 page Comprehensive Plan. The Council voted 6 to 1 to approve. The workshop will hopefully be held within the next month.
Meanwhile the big players, like Houston Methodist, can pursue their options for multi-story buildings and parking garages on the old Randalls site. Another location still in play is Christ Church Presbyterian on the southeast corner of Bellaire Blvd at South Rice, currently zoned R-4 (residential).
Mayor Friedberg objected to the review of the zoning process as being too specific, and instead suggested that the existing Comprehensive Plan should be examined first. He mentioned barriers to new developments, felt that the agenda item seemed to be in response to recent proposals for developments that were turned down or discouraged because they do not meet the current code.
Councilmember Gordon was concerned and felt Councilmember Lewis’ suggestions would result in a complete rewrite of the commercial zoning codes. Councilmember Lewis responded that she felt he misstated her presentation, that her proposals were very narrow and very specific.
Councilmember Wesely agreed that the City should not resort to spot zoning. Specify what’s allowed and what is not. His suggestion is to query what the Comprehensive Plan says, how do the current items and zoning districts under discussion meet the intent of the Plan? He suggested that examination of the ordinances might be very amenable to members of the Planning and Zoning Commission. (See more about the Comprehensive Plan at the end of this article.)
Councilmember Frazier stated that the basis for the zoning in the UV-T in 2014 has changed over time, and felt it may be reasonable to re-examine that zoning ordinance. Councilmember Witt mentioned residents’ concerns about setbacks, and he felt there is some urgency to address these zoning codes now due to the amount of possible commercial developments that may be submitted in the near future.
Councilmember Hotze commented on the new construction at 5222 Spruce, and asked Council to imagine the entire area lined with similar buildings, side-by-side. What sort of image would that present for our City? He wondered if enough residents still want a downtown where you can park in front and run into a store.
Which reminds me of my drive through Rice Village along Rice Blvd recently. It was packed with customers parked in front of the mostly one story businesses. And many pedestrians. That’s not what one sees in the UV-D.
Why Are Zoning Ordinances And The Comprehensive Plan Issues Now?
Two local businesses, O’Reilly Auto Parts and Thompson+Hanson, have been advised that their plans for development are not acceptable under current zoning ordinances.
UV-D zoning requires buildings be constructed at with zero setback from property lines, though 50% setback for residential and 75% for commercial buildings is allowed.
- Those setback areas are not to be used for parking.
- Up to 90% lot coverage is allowed.
- Buildings must be at least 2 stories, at least 30 feet tall.
- Single-family dwellings, up to 5 attached, are allowed.
- The angled public parking built a few years ago in the ‘ornamental streetscape’ precludes easy access to some of the current businesses.
O’Reilly Auto didn’t want or need a 2-story building, but their request to the Board of Adjustment for a variance in order to build a new 1-story building on Spruce in the UV-D was refused.
UV-T zoning is similar to UV-D and the idea of the Urban Farm was well received by P&Z, but the property owers were advised it was not in line with the current zoning.
- The UV-T specifies at least 75 percent of the front building facade of all principal buildings shall be at the front property line, with zero feet of setback.
- Maximum site coverage of 90% is also allowed.
- Minimum building height of 2 stories, maximum is 16 stories or 235 feet.
- No single-family dwellings (detached or attached).
- In addition, both districts allow multi-family (apartments and condos) and hotels but only the UV-D allows single family units (townhouses).
Thompson+Hanson’s plans for an Urban Farm and Gardens did not meet the requirements of the UV-T.
Comparison OF Ordinances To The Comprehensive Plan
Let’s take a look the the current Comprehensive Plan, which often seems to rule decisions on zoning ordinances. Chapter 5 Commercial Area Development & Enhancement (pg 85 of the pdf). Find links to the Comprehensive Plan and to Chapter 5 of the Plan at the end of this article.
- First mentioned is the Bellaire Urban Village at Westpark, now the UV-T. That’s pretty much a washout.
- There’s an enormous flyover ramp at the 610/59/69 intersection, running south to Fournace, making the area between Westpark and Fournace difficult to access
- No light rail was built. Instead the Houston portion offers a huge Metro transit station for buses, and no one seems interested in building a 16 story building.
- The Uptown Houston/River Oaks scenario is now a Walmart, some fast food places, a hotel and Microcenter, also in Houston.
- Next comes the City Center, now the UV-D,
- From the first paragraph: …”encourage significant reinvestment (e.g., by setting quality standards, establishing a more walkable setting, addressing area aestheticsin terms of streetscape and signage, providing public parking, and exploring public/private partnership opportunities.). Were H-E-B and the ‘ornamental streetscape’ the response to that suggestion? Perhaps, but there never seemed to be a willingness by the City to offer mini-grants to existing commercial property and business owners to help finance improvements (pg 5.17). And there was plenty of parking available for the public in business parking lots.
- The authors of this Plan seemed concerned about the lack of residential development in the downtown area. When did that become important to Bellaire residents? Haven’t we always offered low-key residential areas as a haven from the madding crowd?
- Aren’t “stand-alone” multi-family developments (apartments and condos) often built by investors, ultimately as rental units? Is that what we want in the middle of town? Is that where aging Bellaire residents want to live in retirement?
- Lack of green space is mentioned. How does that reconcile with zero setbacks and 90% lot coverage?
- And on and on… it’s almost bizarre to read the multiple criticisms and suggestions for such a small downtown area that has served the needs of Bellaire residents successfully for over a hundred years.
Please email concerns or questions to the Mayor and members of City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton, at email@example.com. Let Council know what you think.