October 18, 2016

Visioning Future Land Use in the TRP District:  A Two-Step Process

Chevron's recent announcement that it plans to sell its Bellaire property at 4800 Fournace has prompted vigorous discussion in the community.  The neighbors nearby are understandably concerned about the changes that are likely coming their way as the property is redeveloped.  And residents in other parts of town are equally interested in the possibilities and what the turnover may mean for the future of our City.  As we engage in this community conversation, it's important to clear up any misconceptions and misinformation to ensure we're all on the same page as we move forward in the process.

Much confusion surfaced in the lead-up to City Council's public hearing last night.  A coordinated neighborhood e-mail campaign was targeted exclusively at the prospect, reported in local news and on social media, that the Houston Independent School District might seek to purchase the Chevron site for a future high school.  Public comment at the hearing was likewise singularly focused.

Yet, no such proposal has actually been brought forward to the City.  Indeed, the City Council has not been asked to consider any particular rezoning or redevelopment of the property.  Neither HISD nor anyone else has submitted any applications.  Instead, the subject of last night's public hearing and subsequent action was a proactive, unanimous recommendation from the Planning & Zoning Commission to temporarily take permitted (by right) uses off the table.  It's a stop-gap measure that buys us the time we need to update the vision expressed in the Comprehensive Plan and ultimately develop new zoning regulations, through a deliberative process with multiple opportunities for public input, without the risk of an inconsistent (by right) redevelopment coming along in the interim.

Our zoning code distinguishes between permitted uses (which property owners can develop by right) and specific uses (which require an application for a specific use permit reviewed by both P&Z and City Council with two public hearings).  The existing regulations for the TRP (Technical Research Park) district contained only permitted uses; the City would not have been able to prevent any such use even while working toward new planning and zoning regulations that might take the TRP in a different direction.  Therefore, the stop-gap simply makes these uses specific uses instead of permitted uses, and subjects them to site plan review:

Sec. 24-544. - Technical Research Park District (TRPD).

A.  Purpose.  The Technical Research Park District is an area of high quality office use, including technical laboratory, computer center, engineering/operations and research facility uses, which is in close proximity to Interstate Highway Loop 610 and is characterized by the zoning requirements set forth in this Section.

B.  Permitted uses.

     1)  Public parks.

     2)  Utilities:

          a)  Local utility distribution lines;

          b)  Telephone lines and related cross connecting points.

     3)  Accessory uses, subject to the requirements of Section 24-510.

     4)  Home occupations, subject to the requirements of Section 24-517.

     4)  Facilities owned and maintained by the City.

C.  Specific uses.

     5)1)  Churches.

     6)2)  Schools.

     7)  Facilities owned and maintained by the City.

     8)3)  Office buildings.

     9)4)  Parking structures and parking lots (private).

     (10)5)  Central plant including electrical generating facility (private).

     (11)6)  Automobile service station.

     (12)7)  Radio, television and microwave antenna or tower.

     (13)8)  Technical research laboratories.

     (14)9)  Computer operations.

C.D.  Standard regulations.

     (1)  Size and area.

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          f)  Those buildings and their appurtenances existing as of November 1, 1983 shall be declared as conforming with the provisions pertaining to this District.

          f)  Site plan review required:  All specific use applications in this district require site plan review and approval to ensure conformance with the standards for this district and other applicable provisions of the City Code.  Applicants shall satisfy all application and submittal requirements for the site plan review itemized in Section 24-524.

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Thus, it's a two-step process.  First, the stop-gap puts a halt on any interim redevelopment by right, so that we'll have time for the second step of the process to play out.  That second step is when P&Z, and ultimately City Council, will actually consider and adopt new planning and zoning regulations, taking all concerns into account through a very thorough and involved process, with multiple opportunities for public input.  Clearly it's not something we want to rush into.  Incidentally, a similar process was followed a few years back in the rezoning of the former Research, Development and Distribution (RDD) district to the new Urban Village-Transit (UV-T) district.

Last night's public hearing was a great one and we appreciate the many thoughtful comments offered by those who spoke at the hearing or who have corresponded with Council Members separately.  We of course welcome and encourage your continued engagement on this issue, especially as we now begin the second step of the process in visioning future land use in the TRP district, starting with P&Z tonight.