After a public hearing on Monday about “stop-gap” zoning changes for 30 acres at Westpark Drive and Loop 610 in Bellaire, residents will have until April 1 to send written feedback before the city council rushes to approve the changes by April 5.
Because the new Comprehensive Plan envisions the area as an urban mecca centered on a future light-rail station, the city of Bellaire wants to act quickly to protect the 30-acre zoning district, previously known as the Research and Development District.
“Any projects that came forward would have to go through a review with the Planning and Zoning Commission as well as final approval by the city council,” said Community Development Director John McDonald. “This is a stop-gap measure. What we’re trying to do is stop any development from going forward in the RDD that’s not congruent with what’s put forth in the Comprehensive Plan.”
The city wants to control development in the area until an outside consultant has time to comb through the zoning code and make appropriate changes.
Only one Bellaire resident, community activist Lynn McBee, spoke at the public hearing on March 22 to express concerns that the city is using a piecemeal method to protect the area. Instead, she said, the city should issue a building moratorium until the outside consultant reviews the code and suggests permanent changes.
“What this will do if you adopt it is allow city council the sole right to make case-by-case decisions with very few standards in place, and opens up the door for poor planning,” McBee said. “I think it’s a poor approach to slice out this one district from the entire city and treat it like it’s something special.”
McDonald said he thought a building moratorium would take away too many rights from property owners, while the stop-gap change he is proposing — using the planned development process — would still allow owners to propose and possibly move forward on development projects.
“Given the tools we have today, I think the P.D. gives us the best option to put some control on the district without closing down development,” McDonald said.
In the planned development process, anyone wishing to construct residential, commercial or mixed-use buildings would need to go before the city to have their ideas approved before moving forward. Any type of plan would have to encompass at least two acres for the city to even consider it. The city would get a chance to review the plans, consider whether they conformed with the Comprehensive Plan, and reject any developments that did not. The area would be known as the “UV-T,” or the “urban village transit-oriented development.”
The stop-gap changes have a two-year sunset provision, after which the area would revert to its current rules unless the city council votes otherwise.
The Planning and Zoning Commission again considered the changes during a special meeting yesterday. Now residents can send written comments to City Clerk Tracy Dutton until April 1. The city council expects to vote on the changes on April 5.