The City Council and the City Manager are fond of referring to various plans and studies to justify expenditures, sometimes on questionable projects and more studies. We hear about the Comprehensive Plan, the Branding Study, Terrain Studios and something called Visioning Bellaire, and the Pathways Plan. And now the Spruce and Fifth Streets project, which if approved as planned will harm businesses in the area around the new HEB. The project has not yet been approved but some of those businesses are already suffering from current street construction.
What are these plans and studies, besides expensive? Find a short overview and links to 4 current plans and studies below.
The grandparent of recent plans and studies is the most recent Bellaire_Comprehensive_Plan. Originated in 2009, updated in 2015 and 2017. From Chapter 1: “The Bellaire Comprehensive Plan is designed as a framework for guiding future development, redevelopment, and community enhancement in the City over the next 20 years and beyond. The purpose of this plan is to establish a vision, along with realistic goals and achievable strategies, that residents, business and land owners, major institutions, civic groups, the Planning and Zoning Commission, and public officials prefer—and will support with action—in the years ahead.”
The Plan includes an overview of the City’s history and demographics, probable future growth and housing, commercial development, and general community development. Much of the focus for commercial development is on the Bellaire Urban Village at Westpark, now called the Urban Village Transit Oriented Development (UV-T) and currently impacted by the 69/610 construction, and the City Center Area (pre-HEB) and now called the Urban Village Downtown (UV-D). We also have a Corridor Mixed-Use (CMU) district. These areas were rezoned in 2013.
While the Plan offers suggestions for a revitalized City Center (UV-D) area geared toward the shopping, service, and entertainment needs of Bellaire residents, at no time does it suggest displacing existing businesses.
It specifically mentions that the City Center should be safely accessible by bike and by foot on page 5.14 and on page 5.17 the Program/Initiative portion offers this consideration:
► Offer mini-grants to existing commercial property and business owners to help finance building façade improvements, enhanced landscaping, or other site upgrades that might not otherwise occur where no construction activities are planned that would trigger compliance with newer development standards.
Many residents are familiar with the Branding Study, authorized by City Council in April of 2017 at a base cost of a little less than $50,000. The main result was a logo that was mocked and criticized by residents and eventually rejected by Council. Ancillary results were a font style, a green color, and a verbal identity. Meanwhile City staff continues to attempt to do away with our long time City logo.
Another study is the $70,000 Terrain Studios Study, also called Visioning Bellaire, which is no longer available on the City’s website. If we can manage to demolish most of our residential and business areas, increase our land size by tenfold, and then start over it might be a great plan, would be just right for a planned community development. But with a landlocked and highly developed 3.6 square miles of area, compared with 34 square miles for Sugar Land, for instance, that’s not an option.
Flamboyant presentations of landscaped streets that seem to have no adjacent buildings, wide boulevards, a photo of an allée of oaks leading to a plantation, roundabouts, power lines buried underground, even a coastal prairie along the electric lines by the railroad tracks are included. That’s where the angled parking designs for Spruce and Fifth are found, (pg 122-125) but the Study makes no suggestion of displacing businesses.
A more recent study is the $75,000 Community Pathways Plan with a goal of improving pedestrian and bicycle travel in the City. For now this plan has been put on hold for modification. Resident resistance has begun and apparently Baldwin Avenue will no longer be part of the plan and other changes may be in the works. More on this later.
Also in the works is the project that includes Spruce Street/Fifth Streets. To date Costello, Inc., an engineering firm, has been awarded over half a million dollars to design this project. Three other residential blocks and miscellaneous drainage construction are included in this project for a total estimated cost of $7.6 million.
A second phase of the project, Group C Phase 3, for another five residential blocks is estimated to cost another $7.6 million.
City staff is scheduled to meet with business and property owners from Spruce and Fifth Sts on Tuesday, May 15th, at 2:00 p.m. in the CenterPoint Energy Community Center, Second Floor of the Bellaire Family Aquatic Center, 7001 Fifth Street. The meeting is open to the public.
With many of our residents still concerned with property damage from the Harvey floods some of the City’s current plans and studies tend to go unnoticed. That’s understandable when you are still struggling with repairs, financial decisions, or even relocation. I hope this overview provides a brief explanation of some of the issues that City Council and Bellaire residents will be facing in the next several months.
Email the Mayor and City Council via our City Clerk, Tracy Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask her to forward your email to the Council.