Bellaire residents had mixed reactions Tuesday to a comprehensive plan update that could bring higher density housing to the city’s northern boundary and revitalize the city’s downtown district.
At a public hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission, chairman Bill Thorogood said the plan provided by consultants from the Kendig Keast Collaborative, was the result of about four to five years of work by Bellaire residents.
This is a conceptual plan. Any zoning ordinance that comes along with this would be a separate public process,” Thorogood said. “We haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel.”
Kendig Keast vice president Gary Mitchell said the comprehensive plan update – developed after a series of public and informal meetings – showed that most Bellaire residents want to preserve the city’s tradition of being “the city of homes.”
Another “top concern – if not the top concern,” Mitchell said, is preserving “the urban tree canopy” along Bellaire’s residential streets. Many residents expressed concern that mature trees had been lost as older homes have been torn down to make way for larger, more expensive houses.
Although new construction has now replaced 60 percent of Bellaire’s original houses, many local residents have expressed concern about “housing for all ages,” Mitchell said.
“That drew a lot of discussion in the committee process,” Mitchell said. Because many Bellaire residents are in “their middle years,” they expressed concern about how they could afford to stay in the city in the future.
“”Many people said, ‘I just don’t see how I am going to be able to continue to live in Bellaire,” because of housing costs or tax reasons, Mitchell said.
The consultants recommended that the Planning Commission consider including a separate plan for a “transit-oriented-development” on Bellaire’s northern boundary. The area, near S. Rice and Westpark, is now zoned as the Research Development and Distribution District. But it has failed to develop over the years.
With Metro planning to build a light-rail station in that area by 2012 or 2013, Mitchell said Bellaire could capitalize on the rail station as a way to bring multi-family housing, shopping, and dining opportunities to the area.
The plan also said Bellaire should take steps to improve the appearance of local streets, with better landscaping on esplanades and street-scaping, as well as improved “walkability” and “connectivity” such as bicycle lanes.
Bellaire carpenter Robert Riquelmy, who is running for mayor against Cindy Siegel, said he had attended every public meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Committee that developed the proposal.
“This is a plan of, by and for real estate interests,” Riquelmy said. “I don’t think it has much to say for people who live in Bellaire and pay taxes in Bellaire.”
But Bellaire resident Katherine Hardin said she welcomed the proposal.
“The street-scape enhancement is an area that is extremely important, because that is going to define our city,” Hardin said “I’d also like to commend you for the higher-density housing component.”
Hardin also suggested that the plan include some policy on public art, as policies to better manage parking in areas near Bellaire and Episcopal High Schools.
Bellaire homeowner Richard Franke said the plan fails to address the city’s future financial needs.
“We’ve got a very tight-fisted city council, a very low tax rate and billions of dollars of unfunded infrastructure needs,” Franke said.
Lynn McBee complained that the 100-page plan was overly long and too costly.
“The overall impact would increase demand for city services,” McBee said. “Don’t reinvent the wheel. Do the easy (thing)) – slight modifications in zoning, and let the developers come to us.”
.The Planning and Zoning Commission will consider the comprehensive plan revision at its next meeting at 7 p.m. September 8. If the commission approves the plan, it will be considered next by the Bellaire City Council.
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