Planning and Zoning
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 regulations 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 appointed by the mayor and city council. Their decisions are usually referred to City Council for review and approval.
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. And lately the various interpretations of the Comprehensive Plan.
Bellaire has debated the question of protecting residential versus encouraging commercial for decades. It was a primary cause of the recall election in the 1970s.
Originally the perimeter of the downtown commercial area adjoining residential areas was zoned CCD-1 (in blue) and allowed 2 story height (25′) on small parcels and 3 stories (35′) for planned development structures on an acre or more. Planned development always requires P&Z and City Council approval. CCD-2 (in purple) allowed taller structures in the central areas that did not connect to residential, such as the the Bellaire Triangle and Randall’s Centers. It made sense.
But zoning in commercial areas of Bellaire was changed in 2014. The Planning and Zoning Commission did away with CCD-1 and CCD-2 and recommended CMU (dark green-Commercial Mixed Use) and UV-D (light green-Urban Village-Downtown), and allowed anything from single family townhouses to possible 6-story mixed-use multi-family buildings containing apartments or condos.
Or what’s known as “there goes the neighborhood”. Does this open the door to affordable housing units in Bellaire?
In the UV-D the 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! Built just 15 feet from residential property lines.
Prior to this change City zoning ordinances only allowed buildings of that height in the center of downtown (Randall’s center, the Bellaire Triangle, along Bissonnet west of Chimney Rock), not adjacent to residential areas.
Now the City is “redeveloping” the UV-D area around H-E-B. Driving out the small businesses that have served this community for years. For what? Boutiques, or a 6-story apartment building?
The only accommodation to adjoining residences is a setback plane. I think of it as rear patios or balconies. (See the upper right corner on the building above.) For reference, the 5100 block of Spruce measures just under two acres. The stalled Ashby high-rise on Bissonnet was to be built on just over one and one-half acres.
This change was approved by City Council on a 5 to 2 vote on March 3, 2014. I can assure you that no one who voted for this change, whether on P&Z or City Council, was affected by it. They won’t suffer the consequences if apartments are built along the north side of the 5100 or 5200 block of Spruce. It’s not behind their house.
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 interests, apartments, and condos.
Now we’re dealing with a request to rezone 4301 Bellaire Blvd. Why? A developer purchased the land knowing the zoning requirements. He now claims he just can’t make it work. Can’t find a buyer for a 9,125 sq. ft house priced at $2.7 million dollars, located next to the railroad tracks and large power lines.
So this developer of commercial properties wants to rezone it for a commercial property. And found willing supporters for this subterfuge on the Planning and Zoning Commission and at least some members of City Council.
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.