As the year begins, we’ve used the pages of Essentials Magazine and its framework to explore some potential developments in 2023 through regular our topics, such as government, business, education and more — and you’ll find those observations through the edition, readable for a limited time in digital page-turning form here.
Here we bring an anecdotal look ahead to a few issues:
- Why does a key factor of flood planning have to wait up to another two years?
- Houston-area media have extolled our area as a new foodie haven, but it’s left a bad taste for two high-profile new food businesses that were touted for their promise.
- And we remind drivers why avoiding the West Loop will continue to be a good idea this year — or why patience will be required if they can’t take another route.
In flood mitigation, while both West University — which is putting the final touches on its Buffalo Speedway Project — and Bellaire are steadily moving ahead with infrastructure improvements to drainage and working on regional solutions, there are developments to watch in 2023.
Chief among them in both cities is the anticipated release of the long overdue preliminary flood insurance rate maps for Harris County this year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Even though the maps are supposed to be reviewed and updated no less than every five years, 2007 was the last time the maps were evaluated countywide, and significant flood control projects have been completed in that time that could show an impact, according to flood control officials.
The maps break down the flood risk and are used to mandate the purchase of flood insurance in those areas showing a high risk.
Local entities provide data to FEMA, and Harris County is in the middle of an extensive, state of the art, multi-billion dollar assessment project, started four years ago that is expected to provide the most accurate risk assessment and basis for mitigation strategies in county history.
Once flood plain maps are released, they go through public review and comment, and communities are then required to adopt floodplain management ordinances, utilizing the new information. The entire process is expected to take up to another two years.
Bellaire has engaged in a formal flood mitigation planning project since suffering a devastating blow from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. That led City Council to hire an engineering group in December to provide advice and manage the city’s involvement in regional drainage improvement, indicated in the city’s Master Drainage Concept Plan that will identify and guide projects.
The firm, Ardurra Group, Inc., will also be responsible for identifying and acquiring potential funding and partnerships for the projects.
Meantime, Bellaire homeowners are hopeful that they will continue to retrieve, at least incrementally this year, some of the FEMA flood insurance discount they lost in 2021 when the city neglected to file the proper paperwork to qualify. New City Manager Sharon Citino is reportedly working with FEMA officials to speed up the process.
Businesses continued their return to normalcy with an unusual number of large-scale new developments — considering the finite nature of West U and Bellaire’s city limits — in various stages. Food-related businesses continued to open at a brisk pace, but there were steady reminders of the obstacles they face in gaining a foothold.
The first high-profile flop was the revival of the Bellaire Broiler Burger by a young local restaurateur who confused his own modern concepts and sensibilities with the old school nature of what kept the original Broiler Burger open for more than half a century. In the end, customers didn’t like the high prices or what he was passing off as original recipes and ingredients that turned out to be formulaic “ghost kitchen” products.
The year 2022 was a rollercoaster for Gina and Joseph Stayshich, and 2023 has started out at the bottom. They’re the young couple — he a noted area chef, she an art expert and business partner — who had opened Bodega Bellaire in a high-visibility strip center in the heart of town in November 2021, when the COVID pandemic was still a factor, requiring even experienced businesses to be careful and flexible.
The Stayshiches seemed to be doing everything right, appealing to the enviable demographics of the Bellaire-West U-southwest Houston area with unique, well-chosen wines, craft beers, cheeses and other gourmet and household items. They held tastings and other special events, and they eagerly joined in community activities.
Their presence on social media was strong, and praise was profuse. But business apparently was not what it seemed. The Stayshiches opened 2023 with an announcement to a group of their best customers:
“Friends and Neighbors,
“Effective immediately we have made the heartbreaking decision to close Bodega Bellaire.”
They didn’t regret the effort, they said, had done all they could with “a few different iterations of our vision and pivoted as necessary to suit the community’s needs.”
But in the end they had only a “small, loyal following (who mostly reside outside of Bellaire proper)” that wasn’t sufficient to survive.
“…While concepts like ours are flourishing in other parts of Houston and around the country,” they wrote, “we just couldn’t create that culture, that vibe in this particular location.”
For 2023, highest hopes for two new Bellaire food businesses are on the shoulders of veteran industry professionals. Lankfords — an 86-year-old burger institution in Houston — is now hiring and expects to open its second location in Bellaire within weeks.
The restaurant group which owns Armando’s in River Oaks is developing its second outpost of Mandito’s to open in the spring in Bellaire Town Center. Mandito’s will serve classic Tex-Mex specialties and boast a margarita-centric bar. The first location is a popular tourist stop in Round Top.
We have another year to go before construction on the West Loop-Southwest Freeway interchange is scheduled to be completed.
The seven-year project, costing $259 million, is aimed at providing improved connector ramps at the interchange.
The biggest consistent contributor to traffic tieups this year is the closing of the Westheimer Road southbound entrance ramp to the West Loop, which happened just after New Year’s and will continue through fall, according to plans.
Texas Department of Transportation officials caution, though, that weekend closings and reroutings will continue as needed, sometimes impacting traffic in both directions and spilling over onto surface streets in the area.
The end, at least, is in sight.
This article first appeared as the cover story in a specially-themed January 2023 edition of Bellaire•West University Essentials Magazine.