March 9, 2023

Putting Policy Into Action

Strategic planning is an ongoing process, as city staff constantly look to Council’s policy direction to guide their day-to-day activities.  It also benefits Council’s own decision making by providing structure and promoting consistency, serving as the essential link between individual decisions and our identified, broader objectives.

This year, the City Manager moved up on the schedule the professionally facilitated planning sessions typically associated with the start of budget season.  Her purpose:  for Council to build upon and flesh out the Strategic Focus Areas we adopted last year, and to develop specific goals, strategies and tasks that will help staff put Council’s policy direction into action.

February 7, 2023

Forward Progress

This year’s State of the City celebrates the team of dedicated professionals who day in and day out provide the high-quality services and amenities we depend upon, and which are at the very core of why we choose to call Bellaire home.  In reviewing their recent accomplishments, what really stands out is how city staff have managed to overcome persistent staffing shortages and leadership changes in maintaining our “Forward Progress.”  That’s the theme of my presentation, and it represents both their significant achievements and the promise of even more good things to come.  It’s my pleasure to share with you the highlights of the past year for each of our city departments, and a preview of what we can expect for 2023.

February 3, 2023

Verification Report for Restoration of CRS Rating, Flood Insurance Discount

More good news!  Following the recent cycle visit that FEMA required for our application for a two-class modification, the Insurance Services Office has tallied the results and determined we’ve met all prerequisites to be restored to our prior Community Rating System classification of 7.  Once ISO’s verification report is accepted by FEMA, we’ll be getting back our flood insurance discount—15% across the board—and we’re told it should go into effect this October 1.

That we were able to gain reentry into the CRS program within just one cycle (Class 9, last April), and then to qualify for this reclass (to a 7) so soon thereafter, is truly unprecedented.  It is the direct result of untold hours of hard work put in by our Building Official and Interim Assistant Director, Christian Somers, and his team including our consultants at Tetra Tech.  We’re talking about a very detailed and time-intensive process, and the significance of their accomplishment cannot be overstated.

As noted above the flood insurance discount associated with Class 7 is 15% for all policyholders.  Previously that’s what it was in Zone AE, covering the vast majority of Bellaire, but it was only 5% in Zone X, outside the special flood hazard area.  Under Risk Rating 2.0, which is completely independent of our (or any community’s) CRS classification, there’s no longer that distinction.  However, each property is now priced based on its own unique risk, and so individual results, even within the same flood zone, may vary.

The swift restoration of our CRS status brings to a close what has been an unfortunate chapter for our city.  Of course it doesn’t excuse the mistakes of the past, but at least they’ve been rectified at the earliest possible opportunity.  Christian and his team are to be commended for taking ownership of this problem they’d inherited, and for their tireless efforts in getting it resolved.

January 13, 2023

Another $3.3 Million in Grant Funding Coming Our Way

A great way to start the new year, we’ve recently been informed that several of our federal and state grant applications have been approved.

With sincere appreciation to Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher for once again going to bat for us, Bellaire secured $3 million in the latest round of federal appropriations:

Accessible and Inclusive Playground

$600,000 of that funding is to build an accessible and inclusive playground at Evergreen Park.  It will offer a range of play experiences for children of varying abilities and diverse needs, such as by utilizing wider, ramped platforms and structures designed to accommodate wheelchairs.  It will also incorporate sensory play elements involving touch and music, as well as interactive educational features.  Our non-profit partner Patrons for Bellaire Parks believes so much in the importance of this project it has pledged another $160,000 toward any local match (bringing to more than $2.1 million Patrons’ total contributions to date in support of Bellaire parks).

January 10, 2023

Regulatory Reporting Oversight Triggers Mandatory Public Notice

At last night’s City Council meeting, the City Manager informed Council and the public of the disappointing news that the City has been issued a pro forma Notice of Violation by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), for Failure to Submit a Disinfectant Level Quarterly Operating Report.  This was solely a paperwork violation, which the City corrected immediately upon receiving the Notice.  Be assured there was never any threat to the safety of our water supply, a point that’s easily lost in the mandatory language (which I’ve cut-and-pasted below) of the written public notice TCEQ now requires be sent out to Bellaire water customers.  I offer the following, to let you know that it’s coming and to help put it in perspective.

December 30, 2022

Righting the Ship in 2022

One of the main storylines of 2022 is that we’ve finally got our permanent City Manager, and she, in turn, has been busy filling other key positions.  The challenge of persistent personnel vacancies, which is by no means unique to Bellaire, is concerning because it directly impacts the City’s ability to provide the level and quality of services our residents expect.  It’s also not fair to keep stretching our overworked staff, though they’ve admirably risen to the occasion, and it’s not sustainable in the long run.

For the chief executive role to have remained open two years was far from ideal, but it was more important Council took the time necessary to find just the right person we could all unite around.  We’re thrilled to have welcomed our new City Manager, and in her first four months she’s already proven to have been worth the wait.  It’s a big job even under ordinary circumstances, and all the more so now as she’s tasked with rebuilding the team and righting the ship generally.

December 27, 2022

Actionable Next Steps in Our Regional Drainage Improvement Program

Having earlier this year expressed clear policy direction for the continued progression of our regional drainage improvement program, last week the City Council awarded an engineering contract to Ardurra Group, Inc., to assist the City as technical advisor and to actively manage the process moving forward.  They will take the findings and recommendations of the Bellaire Master Drainage Concept Plan and begin developing actual projects, to include maximizing opportunities for outside funding and partnerships.  Ardurra brings years of experience and established relationships doing this kind of work throughout our area.

November 29, 2022

Bellaire’s Response to Houston’s Boil Water Notice

The City of Bellaire first heard about Houston’s boil water notice at the same time everyone else did, when local media began reporting on it just before 8:00 p.m. Sunday.  We never received any notice directly from Houston, as one would have expected.  Turns out they attempted to notify us by e-mail around 7:00 p.m., but sent it to an outdated address (which we’ve since corrected).  At that late hour, however, and so close to when we got word anyway through the media, it really wouldn’t have made any difference in our response.

Under regional subsidence regulations we’re limited to drawing only half our water supply from our groundwater wells.  For the other half we purchase surface water from the City of Houston, as numerous other municipalities and water districts do.  Upon learning of Houston’s boil water notice, Bellaire Public Works immediately began isolating our water system by shutting off the flow of surface water from Houston and switching over exclusively to groundwater.

Out of an abundance of caution, we went ahead and issued our own boil water notice, too.  Since we had been taking water from Houston all day and couldn’t rule out the possibility some of it may have been affected, it was the right call.  Always better to err on the side of public health and safety.

That said, be assured we never had any reason to believe our water supply was actually contaminated.  At no time during the event did Bellaire’s system pressures drop below required levels, and testing performed Sunday and yesterday all came back within acceptable water quality parameters.  Yesterday evening after further investigation we determined our notice, which again had been issued as a precaution, could safely be lifted and we promptly did so.

City staff in Public Works and the City Manager’s Office did a great job in their handling of this situation.  Still, they recognize there may be some areas for improvement and will be reviewing the response for any learnings they can take from it.  Bellaire water customers may contact Public Works at (713) 662-8170 or by e-mail at with any questions.

November 28, 2022

Council Chewing on a Location for New Pound

The City Council’s long-awaited workshop last week on proposals for the replacement and relocation of the Bellaire Pound took an early turn, diving into the details of our current animal control operations and policy.  (Video of that first hour will be of interest to those wishing to have the latest information.)  That discussion set the stage and provided necessary context for the remainder of the workshop, and for the decision making still to follow.  All were in agreement we’ve made great progress over the past year in upping our game at the pound as it exists today, but it’s time to move forward with a new facility elsewhere.

We won’t be rebuilding at the current site, because it’s too deep into the floodplain for us to be able to replace the structure cost-effectively, and there are related operational challenges as well.  After careful consideration of potential alternatives both in and outside Bellaire, staff have narrowed it down to two options:  a City-owned parcel on N. First St. at the northern edge of town, or an industrial property that’s about five miles away.

October 17, 2022

P&Z, Council Call for Comp Plan Review

Are there aspects of our zoning code that no longer meet the needs and desires of the community, recognizing those sentiments may change over time?  Have new developments, or denials of new developments, in recent years produced outcomes inconsistent with our expectations?  These are important questions, marked by a heightened sense of urgency given near-term redevelopment opportunities (at the former Randall’s property, for example—a word on that below) and their potential long-term effects.  To be clear that’s not in reaction to any particular proposal, but just in recognition of the fact that the turnover of developable parcels underscores the need to ensure our zoning is up to date.  It also doesn’t mean we presume to know the answers before we’ve even asked; only that this is a conversation we really ought to be having, and with as much public input as we can get.