Planning and Zoning ordinances are the result of decisions made by the Planning and Zoning Commission, comprised of Bellaire residents who volunteer to serve, and then with final approval of the ordinances by City Council.
P&Z Commissioners and members of City Council may be attorneys or artists, oil and gas executives or real estate agents, retired engineers or homemakers. They are seldom professional city planners or traffic flow analysts, and they rely on the advice of City staff, City management, and occasionally outside consultants.
Bellaire has debated the question of protecting residential zoning versus encouraging commercial ventures for 50 years or more. Overreach by developers 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 (blue). It allowed 2-story height (25′) on small parcels and 3 stories (35′) for planned development structures on an acre or more. It offered protection to residential areas adjoining the City Center.
The central CCD-2 (purple) allowed taller structures, up to 79 feet plus extras, in the central areas such as the Bellaire Triangle and Randall’s Center. It almost made sense along the border with Chimney Rock, but not for that Downtown Area bounded by Bellaire Blvd, Bissonnet, and South Rice should have remained, the heart of our downtown. See map at left. (Fifth St is shown as Meredith.)
2014 – New Zoning In Commercial Areas
But zoning in commercial areas of Bellaire changed in 2014. The Planning and Zoning Commission did away with CCD-1 and CCD-2 and combined those zones with RM-F, RM-1, 2 or 3, originally a mix of older multifamily and mixed-use commercial along areas of Bissonnet and Bellaire Blvd. The new zoning areas were rearranged into UV-D Urban Village – Downtown District (pale green), and CMU Corridor Mixed-Use District (darker green).
The new UV-D required a minimum building height of 2-stories, in some cases 3-stories. No more small 1-story buildings. It increased allowable building heights on lots adjacent to residences. Allowable lot coverage is 90%, and 75% of the building must be built at the front property line. Pull-in parking in front of the building is not allowed. However some of this seems to the open to interpretation by City staff.
Planned development height on minimum one acre was increased to a maximum building height of 79 feet – about 7-stories. Plus an additional 20 feet for roof gables, antennas, etc. Tall buildings might be built 15 feet from residential property lines.
In the CMU there is no minimum height but allowable heights were increased. Most front areas allow 15 ft. or more, and pull-in parking is not prohibited. Most sites allow 75% lot coverage except for a PD. That coverage would be determined by an approved site plan. Somewhere in all that CMU ordinance verbiage there appears to be an allowance to construct a building with the rear view facing Bissonnet and a multi-story garage just a few feet from residences.
The zoning in the commercial area along Westpark and Loop 610 was also changed, to UV-T, Urban Village (TOD) District. Similar to the UV-D, the minimum height is 2-stories, zero lot setbacks, up to 90% lot coverage. But maximum height is 16-stories or more. One candidate for a new retail establishment has already been warned off by P&Z. Their plans didn’t meet the UV-T standards.
There is an additional condition for UV-D, CMU, and UV-T 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 changes were approved by City Council in 2014 on a 5 to 2 vote. I can assure you that not one person who voted for these changes, 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.
In early 2015 a new H-E-B grocery store for Bellaire was announced. The building spans sections of the old CCD-1 and CCD-2. Would that zoning have prevented the construction of the new store? Possibly, since CCD-1 imposed a 2-story limit on most structures, 3-stories on a minimum 3 acres.
What Is The Definition Of Multi-Family?
It’s important to understand that multi-family housing, R-MF Residential Multi-Family District, is not the same as our fee-simple townhouse developments. Bellaire’s townhouses contain adjoining single-family residences, but the building and land for each residence is owned separately.
Multi-family structures can contain numerous residential units in one structure. Multi-family may be apartments, condos, even fourplexes and duplexes. The primary R-MF site is the Pont Alba apartments, located along Bissonnet at the eastern entrance to Bellaire.
Meanwhile upscale communities in the Houston area – West University, Southside Place, the Memorial Villages – continue to protect their residential areas from the intrusion of tall buildings and multi-family structures.
I wish I was making this up, but you can find it all here: