By Jane McNeel
With two former Planning & Zoning Commission chairs elected to Bellaire City Council last fall, it should come as no surprise that council and P&Z are making zoning matters an especially strong focus.
Taking the position that some of our zoning ordinances aren’t in line with the Comprehensive Plan, the P&Z has already started review of those “inconsistencies” and making recommendations. That’s somewhat flawed, though: The Comp Plan is just that — a plan that constantly changes depending on who’s in charge. Yet some civic leaders, including the current council majority, insist that it should set the zoning for the city.
And so we’ve already had a P&Z workshop on the subject on April 14, which you can watch at https://bellairetx.new.swagit.com/videos/167462, starting at about an hour into the session. It’s an important subject, and the presentation was well done. Unfortunately the downtown urban village district (UV-D) and corridor mixed-use district (CMU) that spans portions of Bissonnet inside the Loop, adjacent to the UV-D and at the westernmost edge of the city, were not part of the discussion, but commissioners did examine some districts that receive little attention.
Among the P&Z’s recommendations to council:
- Sharpening the language of the residential multi-family district (RM-F), described as an “urgent need.” This is a small district with Bellaire’s only apartment complex (built in the 1960s) in the 4300 block of Bissonnet, adjacent to the Union Pacific tracks. The findings mention the potential for redevelopment on the 3.5-acre tract which backs up on single family homes, including as independent living for seniors.
- The P&Z also suggested immediate attention to adding detail to descriptions of the light industrial (LI) district, the expanse of CenterPoint Energy property along Bissonnet Street and the railroad tracks that extends back about three blocks to the northernmost city limits.
- Development of a “clearer and more detailed vision” for the Mulberry residential estate district (MRED), among the city’s largest residential properties, on Mulberry Street and the railroad tracks, in an area a few blocks south of Bissonnet and a short distance north of Bellaire Boulevard.
So it’s a new day for P&Z, fresh off the heavy lifting on the North Bellaire Special Development District. Commissioners could be facing decisions on the UV-D, with the large Randall’s site on the market — which begs for a review of what’s already been done in that district.
Let’s start with the 2014 rezoning that included the build-to-the-lot-lines construction of H-E-B. There’s been discussion on social media recently about break-ins and thefts in the lower-level parking garage of H-E-B. The UV-D zoning almost forces businesses with new construction to build lower-level internal parking, including properties on the north side of Spruce Street that back up to residences.
The safety issues should be reviewed.
A review is needed, too, of whether the reconfigured parking, narrowed streets and building height requirements are doing what intended: Create a walkable district with attractive shops, outdoor cafes and boutiques. The answer is clear: As it stands, the zoning is not proving attractive. What would revitalize the area?
Not the UV-D regulations including a minimum building height of 30 feet, zero setback at the front property line for at least 75 percent of a commercial building, and 90 percent lot coverage.
The only parking available at the front of a new construction in the UV-D is public on-street parking. This will apply to the Randalls site, too.
For the CCD-1 and -2 districts, let’s consider returning to some of the older regulations, removing the onerous requirements for 30-foot minimum building heights and no allowance for the pull-in parking that kept businesses thriving for decades. Remove those unsightly and inconvenient public parking areas and return to our 60-foot wide commercial streets.
Most existing merchants long to return to the customer-friendly older access, and it’s a safe bet that potential businesses are seeing the same impediments to locating in the area.
McNeel has resided in Bellaire for 65-plus years. She maintains the BellaireCivicClub.com website as a forum for discussion of community issues and an easy-to-access repository of background information and official documents and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.