UPDATE 11/17/2020: At a Public Hearing on Monday, November 16, 2020, the City Council rejected the applications.
UPDATE 10/8/2020: The requests to rezone the parking lot were rejected by Planning and Zoning on October 8, 2020, by a vote of 0-6.
UPDATE 8/16/2020: A Public Hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission for the parking lot at 4300 Bellaire Blvd was held on Thursday, August 13, 2020, at 6 PM. Over twenty residents signed up to speak; all speakers opposed the zoning request.
A new feature has been added to the main gateway entrance to the City on Bellaire Boulevard. No, sorry, not a new ‘Welcome To Bellaire, A City Of Homes’ sign. And that wide swath of green space running north to Bissonnet is gone. This new addition, located at 4300 Bellaire Blvd on the CenterPoint land just inside the City limits, is a parking lot.
It’s the first thing the public will see when they enter Bellaire from the east, not a great first impression of our City. And it’s in an R-5 residential district, directly adjacent to a residence. If this parking lot remains we can say goodbye to Bellaire’s reputation as a residential enclave with protective zoning. For the timeline skip down to Just the Facts.
Who Built The Lot?
Developers of Southside Commons, a new development located in Southside Place, built the lot. They applied for a permit for the lot in January of 2019. But the first any of the neighbors heard of it was in late February of 2020, when construction began.
In early 2020 Paul Hofmann, Bellaire’s City Manager, announced “the CenterPoint easement is getting prepped for parking. The parking lot will be split with Southside Commons for their employee parking and over flow parking from Evelyn’s Park”. As though that justifies an embarrassing scar on our landscape. Gone is the sweep of green along the CenterPoint easement, next to the original mid-century home.
Apparently this will be touted as some sort of accessory to Evelyn’s Park, but it is not. It’s a private parking lot for employees of a business located in another city, and from a purely resident perspective, I don’t know why Bellaire land should be used as a parking lot to support another city’s businesses.
This use of Centerpoint’s land has been on the back burner for Evelyn’s Park Conservancy for years. When residents heard the suggestion they assumed the additional parking might be for one or two large events per year, and in the existing field. There was never a plan or proposal presented to the City Council. And since parking was made available by Bellaire Methodist Church most folks thought the parking problem was solved.
It turns out that EPC negotiated with Centerpoint, apparently with the City’s knowledge, to lease the property back in 2017. (Here are two letters from the City of Bellaire to Cenrterpoint reserving the rights to the property, one in 2013 and a second one in 2016). Somehow they connected with the developer of Southside Commons and the plan to build the current parking lot was devised. Documents show that the lot was built in February-March, 2020, in cooperation with the Evelyn’s Park Conservancy, with Centerpoint lease agreements with the Conservancy already in place in 2017 and Southside Commons in 2019.
What Is The Zoning For This Area?
The parking lot is clearly located in a Bellaire residential district (R-5), and borders a private residence in the Bellaire Boulevard Estate Overlay District, zoned as a low-density residential area.
Not only is the lot located in a zoned residential area, it is being built within a few feet of a Bellaire residence. Imagine living next door to a parking lot, headlights shining in your bedroom windows, noise, strangers coming and going day and night. Seven days a week. The plans show lights and bus shelters, the permit application and site plan show 100% lot coverage. In 2019 an application from a developer for a 2-story office building across the street at 4301 Bellaire Blvd was voted down by City Council.
If This Is A Residential Area, Was This Lot Approved By
The Planning And Zoning Commission?
No. When a representative of Southside Commons applied for a Commercial Building Permit in January of 2019, Development Services processed the permit with no referral to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and in February of 2020 the site plan was approved without a hearing before P&Z or City Council. Of interest is the fact that the property owner information listed MM Bellaire One LLC, but in fact the property is owned by CenterPoint.
Development Services director ChaVonne Sampson stated at the March 12, 2020, P&Z meeting that Evelyn’s Park submitted the permit application for the lot, but that statement is not accurate. MM Bellaire One LLC, not Evelyn’s Park or Evelyn’s Park Conservancy, submitted the request for a permit.
Mr. Hofmann espoused the same theme – it’s about Evelyn’s Park. Skipped over the permit information and who is actually paying for the lot. He said the permit was issued on January 6th, but the documents show it was issued on January 20, 2020, and the plans were approved on February 24, 2020. The building official who signed off on the final construction plans is no longer employed by Bellaire.
Mr. Hofmann also explained that the City was looking into the zoning issue and more information would be available by Monday’s City Council meeting on March 16, 2020. Neither Ms. Sampson nor Mr. Hofmann could explain why this was approved without oversight from P&Z or City Council or any public hearings.
Bellaire residents want to know how this happened. Is it legal? What does this say about our zoning ordinances, and about our City management? If this is deemed illegal, a violation of our zoning ordinances, and the responsible parties must remove the parking area, who is responsible for the costs?
Meanwhile we have a parking lot at a main entry to Bellaire, jammed next to a residence. What kind of image does this convey? Real estate values in Bellaire are already in a state of flux, this will certainly not help. Residents living close to this lot spoke out against it at City Council in March, 2020, and some have consulted with attorneys. Regardless of the legality of this project, this parking lot will not enhance the image of Bellaire as a premier city or impress prospective residents.
In the past five years we can thank the City Manager and members of City Council for the loss of our City logo, our City motto, and if this parking lot remains we have lost our most attractive entryway into the City. What’s next? Or what’s left?
Just the Facts:
2011-2017 – Members of the board of Evelyn’s Park Conservancy had mentioned the possibility of using the Centerpoint property for overflow parking for special events, but did not solicit the approval of City Council or present any proposals or plans.
2017 – Evelyn’s Park Conservancy signs a license/lease agreement with Centerpoint for use of the land located at 4300 Bellaire Blvd, a residential area zoned R-5.
2019 – MM Bellaire One LLC signs a sublease agreement with Evelyn’s Park Conservancy.
1/6/2019 – MM Bellaire One LLC requests a permit for construction of a parking lot at 4300 Bellaire Blvd.
1/20/2020 – A permit is issued to Arch Contractors. One of the managers of MM Bellaire One LLC is John Morton, who is also a principal in Triple Crown Investments, the company developing the Southside Commons in the old Palace Bowling Lanes building. Evidently once the developers of Southside Commons were provided an opportunity to sublease from Evelyn’s Park Conservancy they agreed to pay for the construction of the parking lot. The purpose of the parking lot is for a Southside Commons employee parking and will be used for overflow parking for Evelyn’s Park.
2/24/2020 – William Davidson in Development Services approved the plans for the parking lot after sending emails to other City personnel and Ms. King-Ritter. (No one with the City acknowledges his query or of any knowledge of the plans.)
3/15 – 5/4/2020 – In mid-March Mr. Davidson moved to a position in Public Works. He resigned and left the employ of the City of Bellaire on May 4, 2020.
3/16/2020 – A well-known law firm, King & Spalding, is now representing a group of neighbors on Bellaire Blvd and Mulberry. A letter was sent to the City of Bellaire.
3/26/2020 – City of Bellaire Development Services sends a letter to CenterPoint and Arch-Con, with a cc to Evelyns Park Conservancy.
4/14/2020 – Patricia King-Ritter, the Director of Evelyn’s Park Conservancy, submitted a letter to the City of Bellaire. The City is apparently treating the letter as a request to rezone the CenterPoint land for use as a parking lot.
6/1/2020 – Ms. King-Ritter announces her resignation as Director of Evelyn’s Park as of June 30, 2020
7/28/2020 – A Public Hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission for the parking lot at 4300 Bellaire Blvd is scheduled for Thursday, August 13, 2020, at 6 PM.
Link to City Council meeting 3-16-2020.
The parking lot is discussed under new business, about 35 minutes into the meeting.
Bellaire’s Debt is $127.5 million at the end of FY2019,
one of the highest per capita in the state.
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