Budget talks have begun, the City’s fiscal year begins October 1st. The City Manager position has been in play for some time, hopefully we’ll have a new, highly qualified City Manager soon. Meanwhile Council is currently mulling over a number of projects, some funded, some not.
- A new bathroom for Mulberry Park was approved some time ago, to replace the use of porta-potties by the sports teams. The last price I recall was around $150,000, to include a prefab unit, a foundation, new water line, new sewer line, and electrical. It was initially listed in Capital Improvement Projects for $250,000, but that was when it was supposed to be funded by donations, which were never received. It will require ongoing cleaning and maintenance.
- Designs for a stand-alone sidewalk are in the works along the 4700-5000 block of Maple St, to connect to Bellaire High School. Some of the Maple St residents want 5-foot wide sidewalks along both sides of the street, however Council approved only the south side. The initial estimated cost was around $200,000, but no firm price has been set. Neighbors affected by the sidewalk need to review the installation plans for their property.
- A new dog pound has been discussed, but no location or costs have been provided. In the past Bellaire averaged 3 to 4 stray dogs per month. Update 6/14/22: This was just released by the City: Upping Our Game at the Bellaire Pound
There have been numerous complaints about lack of oversight and code enforcement on new home construction in the City. Development Services is responsible for inspections and verification that the builder is adhering to the City codes.
How Is Our Zoning Working Out?
In 2014 when numerous residents opposed the rezoning of Bellaire’s downtown area, and later in 2019 opposed the decision to turn the area around H-E-B into an ornamental streetscape, the city manager, the Mayor, most members of Council, spoke in favor of the plans. They wanted to attract new downtown businesses and provide pedestrian friendly areas full of boutiques and outdoor cafes. Just like Rice Village, only better.
As of May, 2022, we have an oil change business at Bellaire and Ferris, which has affected access and parking for the adjoining businesses, a proposed drive-through salad place (emphasis on drive-through) at the corner of Bellaire and Fifth, and a new elevated and still-unoccupied commercial building at the corner of Spruce and Ferris.
The narrowed streets and ‘streetscape’ around the H-E-B store has led to empty storefronts in that area. Currently, due to improper installation of the electrical and irrigation lines under the new pavement, street demolition is in progress, again. Eventually those fancy streetlights may be put to use. But will they encourage new businesses and pedestrians in an area that appears deserted and unkempt?
We did see some new old and new businesses move into the remodeled 2-story center on Bellaire and South Rice. Those property owners essentially rebuilt the existing center, which dated back to the 1950s or earlier, to newer standards. It’s beautifully landscaped and provides ground level parking.
On the other hand, there’s a recent build of a multi-story medical building at the corner of Bissonnet and Newcastle. The back of that building and the parking garage face Bissonnet, with no setback or landscaping.
Has Recent Commercial Development Impacted Bellaire?
Folks are beginning to wonder whether Bellaire residents are concerned about the direction of commercial development in this town. How many residents are even aware of the recent focus on the possibility of multi-family developments? Apartments and condos, which should not be confused with single-family attached townhouses. Some upscale cities, West University for example, do not allow multi-family developments.
In 2015 residents were informed of H-E-B’s design for their new store on Bissonnet. That store straddles the old CCD-1 and CCD-2 districts that were replaced by the UV-D in 2014. The design for the new store just happened to fill the requirements of the new UV-D zoning approved in 2014.
Numerous small businesses were displaced by the new build. Plus the City gave H-E-B a portion of Cedar St. All accomplished in record time after that zoning change.
Next, despite opposition by businesses and residents, Council approved the ‘pedestrian friendly streetscape‘ plans around H-E-B on a 6-1 vote in 2019. H-E-B had to receive special treatment so that the dumpster could be serviced. They also chose not to fully landscape the perimeter of the store. None of the changes approved by Council have attracted those cafes and boutiques.
Currently we have residents opposing the drive-through salad business proposed for 5201 Bellaire Blvd. The Public Hearing before City Council for that application was held on June 6, 2022. For unknown reasons the principals of the business did not attend the hearing, and it was postponed. Find a link to that meeting here. Written comments to City Council can be sent through noon, June 16, 2022.
What Does The Future Hold?
How many businesses want to build new 2-story or taller buildings, with zero setback from the property line and with few or no parking spaces at ground level? That’s the minimum requirement for the UV-D: “Minimum building height: 30 feet, which shall include at least two working stories for all portions of the building situated at the front building line”.
There’s a UV-D requirement that at least 75% of the front of a commercial building must begin at the property line, with no front parking spaces for vehicles. So most buildings would have to be elevated with parking underneath, like the new place on Spruce at Ferris. Currently one older one-story ‘grandfathered’ storefront on Spruce at Fifth is being remodeled.
There’s no telling what might happen on the Randall’s land, it’s also in the UV-D. Wouldn’t zero lot line mean that a new business on that site would have to be built just as H-E-B was, a few feet from either Bellaire Blvd or Bissonnet – or both? Guess it depends on the location of the “front” property line. Is it time for some changes in our downtown zoning?
Things To Come
We have yet to see what develops in the recently approved North Bellaire Special Development District, the NBSDD, though there are already complaints from area neighbors about the noise from a recent event held on the site. Find some development proposals for this zoning district here.
My suggestion is to send all comments to the Mayor and members of City Council via Tracy Dutton email@example.com and ask her to forward to them. Speak out at meetings during Public Comments. Let your elected officials know of your concerns.