The Bellaire City Council shot down City Manager Paul Hofmann’s request for a new Economic Development Policy that could have allowed the city to use “public resources” to spur private investments in new projects or developments in the city.
Despite Hofmann’s argument that such a policy could attract economic development in Bellaire, members of the city council overwhelmingly opposed the idea.
Only Councilman Roman Reed argued in favor of the policy, saying that it was time for the city council to begin serious efforts to attract development in Bellaire.
“This is a test,” Reed said. “This is a test for council on how serious we are about economic development. Are we going to continue to go down the same road?”
Hofmann tried to explain that the proposed policy “does not mean the city is writing checks” to help finance private projects or developments in Bellaire. Instead, it would mean the city could work with developers on infrastructure or transportation needs, even to the extent of creating a special tax district to finance those types of projects, Hofmann explained.
Such a policy would help the city move away from “a tax base that is arguably too dependent on high-end residential” development, Hofmann said. “We need a strategy to sustain ourselves.”
Hofmann repeatedly tried to assure the council that the policy “is not about spending money.”
Hofmann noted that the city of Bellaire Comprehensive Plan calls for an effort to attract economic development in the city; and that zoning changes earlier this year were aimed at allowing more flexibility for developers to come into Bellaire.
Council members Jim Avioli and Pat McLaughlan noted, however, that many Bellaire residents had strongly opposed new zoning changes that would allow some mixed-use retail and multifamily developments in and near the city’s “downtown” area.
“Why are we even talking about this? We have a comprehensive plan that is only four years old,” McLaughlan said. He noted that during the council’s recent consideration of rezoning in the central city, many residents of Bellaire said they do not want development in the downtown area.
McLaughlan said he is satisfied with the economic development situation in Bellaire.
“Our new home construction is at a record. That is economic development,” McLaughlan said.
Councilman Gus Pappas told Hofmann that he believed that the council had already taken enough action for him to attract new developments to the city.
“I think you can do it anyway. Its part of your job to do it, anyway,” Pappas said.
Hofmann responded, “It is helpful to have a policy statement I can wave around to property owners and to potential property owners.”
Councilman Andrew Friedberg said he felt it was a little too soon after the adoption of the commercial zoning changes for the city to adopt such a policy. He suggested that those changes be given “a little more time..I would let it play out a little longer.”
Hofmann told the council that they needed a better understanding of economic development.
“Economic development is about the use of public resources with private developers,” Hofmann said.
Avioli said that Bellaire can have economic development without the policy.
“I don’t think we ought to adopt this policy at this time,” Avioli said. “I believe in the free market. The free market will bring economic development.”