On February 11, 2021, the Bellaire Planning and Zoning Commission approved proposed language for a new zoning district, the NBSDD (24-544 North Bellaire Special Development District), to replace the existing TRPD (24-544 Technical Research Park District) zoning on the former Chevron property.
Find the new draft of the proposed NBSDD at the end of this article. The proposal will move on to City Council. Then what?
A public hearing will be held before consideration and possible approval by Council, to allow residents to express their opinion. At this time no date has been set, but this may be on the mid-March or early April Council agenda.
For years Bellaire City Council and staff have emphasized that zoning regulations must adhere to the City’s Comprehensive Plan. In recent years the Plan has been used to rezone commercial areas against the wishes of residents and businesses. Projects have been ‘cherry picked’ by city staff and Council members with the declaration that they are supported by the Plan. So, does the final draft of the NBSDD reflect the City’s Comprehensive Plan?
The following list is actual language excerpted from the North Bellaire Special Development Area portion of the Comprehensive Plan, pp. 2.11 – 2.13. The various single-family and life-cycle housing options on smaller lots, prohibited by the Chevron Special Warranty Deed due to contamination issues, are not included. Find the Deed at the end of this article.
“…the most intensive uses in the Special Development Area, and their associated vehicular access points, should be located along or near the Loop 610 frontage.
A next tier of use intensity could occur along the South Rice Avenue frontage and along the Fournace Place frontage, especially in the areas nearest the existing office building on the Chevron site, constructed in the 1970s and situated close to Fournace.
The lowest development intensities, together with adequate separation and buffering, should occur along the northern boundary of the area, closest to the single-family homes that front on Mayfair Street.
… a “height-setback plane” (greater setback of upper portions of buildings) should govern the allowable height of potential multistory buildings near single-family homes to maintain openness and protect residential privacy.
Non-residential development outcomes and amenities should contribute to residents’ quality of life through potential new retail and service uses, including restaurants.
It is recognized that some portion of the area may still be attractive for office use, either as a stand-alone development or as part of a mixed-use scenario.
Medical or other institutional uses are also possible although public or faith-based educational campuses are not desired given their prevalence elsewhere throughout the City.
Non-residential and mixed-use developments should be considered as specific uses or for Planned Development (PD) zoning approval, and should be concentrated in the portions of the area identified above for higher and moderate use intensities, and not in the portion along the northern boundary of the area, closest to the single-family homes that front on Mayfair Street.
… the redevelopment opportunity afforded by this significant land turnover in north Bellaire should also lead to creative site planning and design that incorporates green and open space areas into any proposed development.
The tree-lined frontage and pathway along the north side of Fournace Place should also be maintained and extended all the way to South Rice Avenue.
In non-residential and mixed-use areas, pocket parks, landscaped plazas and seating areas, and generous plantings within street rights-of-way would provide the desired green amenities and area enhancement.
Additionally, landscaping plans across the entire Special Development Area should have a core objective of extending the signature urban tree canopy of Bellaire into the interior of the area…”
Does The Proposed NBSDD Follow The Comprehensive Plan?
Rather than restrict development, P&Z chose to open the area to a long list of possible Planned Development options, then decide what will or will not be allowed later. That decision provides no reassurance to the area residents and opens up a Pandora’s box of possiblities to a developer.
The final draft of the NBSDD acknowledges the residential area to the north of the property, but it makes little to no attempt to protect it, or to consider the impact of a large development on the neighborhoods to the south.
No mention is made of any open space requirement. With a proposed site coverage of 80%, little space remains for interior green space or landscaped plazas with seating areas.
The recently constructed multi-level garage in the photo below stands just over 40 feet from the property line of the homes on Mayfair. But the proposed 35′ setback would now allow that garage to be over 5 feet closer to the residences.
The maximum building height remains 85′, with no specified number of stories in a building.
A non-specific nod to flood mitigation is included, but no mention of the wells on and around this property, installed and monitored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
There’s not a word about the requirements in the Chevron Special Warranty Deed for vapor barriers, or the prohibition on use of underground water for consumption or for watering the landscaping. A few years ago contaminated soil was removed from portions the property.
P&Z also chose to ignore the Special Warranty covenants listed on page 4 that prohibit certain structures and activities, including these:
- detached or single family dwellings, with below grade or first-story residential space (other than open-air parking)
- day care centers
- children’s homes
- nursing homes
- schools (including preschools, elementary schools, and secondary schools)
- hospitals and other similar uses
In fact, the Permitted Uses in the Planned Development portion of the proposed draft include (o) assisted living facilities, (p) nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities, and (q) hospital or emergency room.
But this document is enforceable by Chevron, not the the City of Bellaire. Will future City Councils and Planning and Zoning Commissions even be aware of the problems with contamination on this property?
A building height of 2 stories or less is reasonable in a residential area of 2-story homes. Most of our commercial structures fit that description.
Lot coverage at 60%, the maximum allowed for commercial structures in the Loop 610 district, would provide green space to help reduce flooding and breathing space for the surrounding homes.
A 60′ setback from residential property lines allows more privacy and sound protection, 75′ would be even better. (Take another look at that 4-story garage that’s just over 40 feet from adjacent residences.)
Acknowledging issues that can affect the health of residents and visitors should not be ignored, and prohibitions from the Special Warranty Deed can somehow be included in this district, or perhaps in a separate environmental ordinance.
Does the City of Bellaire have a responsibility to protect the residents living in the areas surrounding this property? To preserve their peace, to safeguard their investment in their properties? To do the same for all residents in the City?
Where do we draw the line between commercial development and quality of life? By dollars and cents, or by common sense? This could be a beautiful and enjoyable area for Bellaire residents.
The City doesn’t have to deny investors an opportunity to develop their land, but it can impose restrictions. And shouldn’t those restrictions be clearly defined in our City ordinances?
To Comment please email the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton, at firstname.lastname@example.org and request that your email be forwarded.
Proposed draft for the NBSDD
Chevron Special Warranty Deed
SQ Environmental Review 11-21-2018
Groundwater Contamination and Wells
ESE Letter 7-26-2019
City of Bellaire Comprehensive Plan
North Bellaire Special Development District – The Great Wide Open!
And a much earlier article from June of 2019: 4800 Fournace & 5901 South Rice – Development & Apartments – Undermining Residents and Our City of Homes?