What’s The Point Of Our Urban Village-Downtown?

UPDATE 11/8/2022:  O’Reilly Auto Parts will have a new building in the same location on Spruce, described as a redevelopment project. To accommodate the current zoning the store will face east (the old storefront faced south).  The building will be one-story with a 2nd story mezzanine at the front property line. 

On August 20, 2020, Bellaire’s Board of Adjustment voted NO, 4 to 2, on a request from O’Reilly’s Auto Parts for a variance in the zoning of the UV-D to construct a new one-story building at their current location at 5134 Spruce. Find the original plans here.

A representative for O’Reilly Auto Enterprises explained that a 2-story structure for the store was unnecessary and financially unfeasible. Could we lose another longtime Bellaire business?   

The Urban Village-Downtown (UV-D) zoning, created in 2014, includes a minimum building height of 30 feet for commercial or single family-attached structures.  Drive-under parking is allowed.  The zoning requires at least two working stories to be situated at the front building line and allows up to 90% lot coverage.  Drive-under parking is allowed, pull-in parking is not.

This is language from the ordinance:  “Maximum front building setback. At least 75 percent of the front building façade of all principal buildings shall be at the front property line, with zero feet of setback.  Step-backs from the front building line are permitted elsewhere along the front building façade for articulation purposes.”  Attached single-family dwellings require that 50% of the building shall be at the front property line, with no garages facing the street.

The 25% of non-building space at the front of a structure can be used to accommodate a public plaza, pocket park or other public open space, or an outdoor seating area associated with a restaurant use, which is situated between the building and along a public street.  Mixed-use Multi-family, for example retail below and apartments or condos above, is allowed. 

Parking?  For new developments it appears to be drive-under or public parking on the street. 

The front property lines along 5100-5200 Spruce adjoined the paved street.  That’s why the new ‘streetscape’ is being built on public right-of-way, taking up over half the 60′ width of the original street surface.  And it definitely was not designed to support the current longtime businesses in that area.

The UV-D runs from Bellaire Blvd to Spruce and South Rice to Ferris. The northern boundary is adjacent to residences.

Say so long for now to the possibility of new one-story businesses with pull-in parking in front.  Angled public parking hinders easy access to private parking in areas along the north side of Spruce and the west side of Fifth Sts, apparently for future 2-story or taller buildings with zero setback.

The bottom line?  Most of the existing service businesses now located in the UV-D area, restaurants and small businesses, daycare and assisted living facilities, auto repair and professional services, would not be allowed under the new ordinance. 

When the UV-D was approved by members of P&Z and City Council, their vision was of some sort of a pedestrian-friendly business district, ostensibly lined with cute 2 story buildings with shops or cafes below and office or living quarters above.  Maybe 5 or 6-story mixed-use multi-family structures, apartments or condos, with businesses on the ground floor.  

Pedestrian friendly?

The results so far?  A 3-story H-E-B grocery store looming over the area, with drive-under parking at ground level, and the new, still to be occupied, 2-story medical building in the photo, covering most of the corner lot, also with parking below. 

Hempel USA abandoned their building at Fifth and Spruce due to loss of parking area and loading dock access, and several other businesses on Spruce are gone.  Eventually property and business owners will choose to sell or retire, and buyers will want to monetize their investment. 

But we won’t have that quaint old-fashioned ‘streetscape’, we’ll have drive-under buildings shoulder to shoulder along the streets, covering 90% of the land.  Because just like H-E-B, there’ll be nowhere else they can guarantee parking. 

Is this what the members of P&Z and City Council had in mind in 2014, or is this another case of unintended consequences?  Isn’t it time to place a moratorium on more development in the UV-D and re-examine this ordinance?

Will this be the result of the UV-D along Spruce and Cedar?

What would it take to receive a variance in the UV-D?  Find the Standards here.
Find a link to the entire UV-D ordinance here.
And a link to the other rezoned commercial area, the CMU, here.



Another Consequence Of The UV-D Zoning Is The Spruce/Fifth St Project

The new zoning in 2014 ultimately led to the multi-miliion dollar Spruce/Fifth construction project, which visitors to the H-E-B area have encountered for the past 16 months – and counting. The original contract term of 10 months with an end date of 2/15/2020 is long past. 

Construction manager ARKK Engineers appeared before City Council earlier this summer and requested more money, then the owner of A Status Construction LLC, the contractor for the project, phoned into a Council meeting with a similar demand.

Even though the City of Pearland chose not to award a contract to A Status in 2017 due to insufficient work experience and problems with their references, and even though the references supplied to members of Bellaire City Council were for another company, on February 18, 2019 Council awarded over $6.5 million in contracts to A Status Construction LLC. 

And the blame game began, with A Status claiming over 300 delay days on a 300 day contract for Spruce and Fifth, due they say to errors and oversights by Costello Engineering and ARKK Engineers.  ARKK stated that A Status Construction ‘is slower than most’ and that they would not approve many of the delay days.  Wherever the blame may lay, we’re almost at the end of August and the project isn’t close to completion.  

Meanwhile, a response to my request for public information from the University of Houston revealed that A Status has been busy working on UH contracts. 

Most of their contracts are for parking lot construction or lot maintenance, however three of them are open-ended contracts, based on billing for services rendered.  One is styled ‘if-as-when requested’ and two are for disaster response and emergency recovery services.

The total of A Status Construction invoices to UH over the past 3 years, through July 6, 2020, is close to $13 million dollars.  About $6.5 million of that amount covers the period of time they have worked as a contractor in Bellaire, where two of their projects are still not completed.   Find the complete list of UH invoices through 7/6/2020 here.

Find background on Spruce/Fifth project here

Find A Zoning Primer Here

A Status Construction Owner Spoke At City Council

ARKK References For A Status Construction – We Have A Problem!       

Articulation. Architectural design method in which particular elements and parts of a building  are made more distinct through variation in flat surfaces and straight lines (e.g., building facades, rooflines, etc.). (Ord. No. 11-086, § 1(App. A), 12-12-2011)

About Jane McNeel

Bellaire resident since 1956. Email: bellairebcc@gmail.com. Find more information on 'About This Site' in the main menu.
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