The second article in our Q&A series deals with Bellaire’s proposed comprehensive plan. In this series, candidates receive questions twice per week and have 24 hours to respond with an answer that is less than 300 words long. The answers publish with no editing.
Do you have a question for candidates about Bellaire issues? Please email it to agrant [at] instantnewsbellaire [dot] com.
InstantnewsBellaire asked the candidates this question:
On Monday, the city held a public hearing on Bellaire’s proposed Comprehensive Plan. The plan proposes a “vision” and specific guidelines to shape Bellaire’s future look and feel. Within the plan, what do you think is the most important guideline, and why? If elected, how will you work to ensure that this guideline is implemented?
Here are the answers from candidates for Place 5 on the Bellaire City Council.
Strict zoning rules. Back in the 1980’s, Fondren Southwest was the new upscale, affluent, up and coming neighborhood with gorgeous big homes and beautifully landscaped yards. As the area was developed, The City of Houston allowed developers to build apartments, townhouses and shopping centers, which originally were leased by young professionals. Then one day in 1985, everything changed. The oil and gas market crashed, Houston crashed. People were moving away in droves. Left with huge investment mortgages and empty buildings, the developers allowed the apartments to be turned into low income, public government housing and gangs and crime took over the neighborhood, the property values plummeted, the schools became crime ridden and unruly, neighborhood robberies skyrocketed and the upscale stores moved away. The area has never recovered to this day. The homes are worth much less than they were twenty years ago and many retail shops and office buildings remain vacant and vandalized.
Any new construction of commercial or retail space in the Downtown area should remain two stories or less with an attractive upscale suburban design and beautiful landscaping. I would encourage the current commercial property owners of some of the buildings that are in poor shape to either rebuild or renovate in keeping with an upscale community and enforce current property and building codes.
However, I believe that the City streets in need of repair, public buildings including the Senior Center that need expansion and/or renovation, an upgraded water system and neighborhood security should be first in line for City Council’s attention.
I believe that the most important long-term goal in the Comprehensive Plan is redevelopment of our commercial areas. Encouraging new investment, that both attracts new businesses and gives our existing businesses a nicer home, will provide a needed boost to our commercial tax base, thereby easing the disproportionate burden on homeowners. It will also bring added conveniences to our residents, and the opportunity to spend more of our money here in Bellaire, supporting our local businesses.
Through careful planning with appropriate buffers to protect the residential integrity of nearby neighborhoods, thoughtful commercial redevelopment will enhance the quality of life in our “City of Homes.” I envision a pedestrian-friendly retail and dining destination, both upscale and reflective of our community character, with expanded green space and improved traffic circulation and accessibility. Our new and improved downtown will serve as a focal point for our community and enhance our identity as a City.
While the Comprehensive Plan does articulate specific strategies for achieving our vision, there are still lots of details to be worked out in the implementation process and we must actively solicit citizen input throughout. Contrary to what some skeptics have suggested, the Plan does not call for the City to spend substantial sums of money through public development projects. Rather, through changes to our zoning regulations we can foster and guide private development, to be paid for with private funds. We must therefore be prepared to work with property owners and developers to ensure that our vision is fully realized and that the end result is what our community wants.
As a Planning and Zoning Commissioner I have been directly involved in creating the Comprehensive Plan, and I am uniquely qualified to take the lead in its implementation as a Councilman.
I think the most important guideline is the redevelopment of the RDD area, in anticipation of the Metro Rail Station. While serving on the Advisory Committee, there was a strong consensus that the area would be an excellent candidate for a town village or town square with an emphasis on pedestrian and mixed use development. Similar to the development in Sugarland and Pearland. To implement, the city should recognize that the development must be market driven or it will fail. Therefore, the council must seriously consider market based incentives to attract the proper mix of business and residential development, with special emphasis on “life-cycle” housing that would attract seniors or empty nesters. This part of our community is rapidly becoming an underserved by the Bellaire housing market.
The Bellaire Comprehensive Plan is a document with six chapters and several sub-sections under various chapters. It is difficult to identify any one specific or most important guideline because they all interface with each other to some degree in the development and redevelopment of the City of Bellaire. They are all important. Chapters of the plan: land use, community character, mobility, public infrastructure & services are currently underway in the community in various phases.
The area that needs very careful / thoughtful input and expertise from the citizens of the community is the chapters/sections of the plan which deals with commercial development and implementation. These components stand out in my mind as critical areas to the future development/redevelopment of Bellaire. The city’s founding fathers got it right in 1908, so let us take the time to make it right in 2009.
We must work to maintain the City of Bellaire as “The City of Homes”, while considering growth for the future. All development/redevelopment should reflect the image and character of Bellaire. This is what the citizens have come to enjoy and love while living in Bellaire.
If elected, I will work tirelessly with the mayor, city council, staff, consultants, and citizens to make sure we get it right for the FUTURE OF BELLAIRE.
JOHNNIE P. FRAZIER