June 19, 2018

“Kolter North” Permit Amendment Approved

When Hurricane Harvey struck only days before school was supposed to start last year, it left the Houston Independent School District scrambling to find temporary arrangements for several campuses that were too badly damaged to open.  Fortunately, the former Gordon Elementary/Mandarin Chinese school building had not yet been torn down to make way for the new Bellaire High School baseball and softball facility previously approved.  It provided a convenient option for the temporary relocation of Kolter Elementary from nearby Meyerland, and has since come to be known affectionately within that proud and grateful community as “Kolter North.”

Helping our neighbors, school children no less, was without question the right thing to do.  The City of Bellaire fast-tracked a certificate of occupancy for the building, insisting only on health and safety inspections and administratively deferring on a temporary basis the requirement for a formal zoning application, since HISD intended for Kolter to stay only one semester while its own campus was repaired.  However, when the school board decided instead to replace the old Kolter with a new building, and to continue operating Kolter North in the interim, the temporary administrative zoning approval would no longer suffice.

Last night the City Council unanimously approved a specific use permit amendment, which formalizes the zoning status of the property going forward, for as long as it’s needed.  The purpose of the specific use zoning requirement, which in our residential districts applies to schools and churches, is to allow us the opportunity to more closely regulate, on a case-by-case basis, such institutional uses to ensure their compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.  Two levels of review, including two public hearings, inform our consideration of the permit application and highlight the issues calling for customized zoning treatment.

In this instance, the process was briefly delayed after Council’s public hearing in order to give HISD more time to respond to neighbors’ concerns and for the traffic engineers to update their analysis.  That further effort led Council to add a second condition to the permit amendment, following on the condition that had originally been recommended by the Planning & Zoning Commission:

  • (a) HISD must continue the bus program between the Kolter Elementary School site and the former Gordon Elementary School site for the full duration that Kolter Elementary School is housed at 6300 Avenue B, in order to minimize traffic impacts to the neighboring community.

  • (b) Buses shall not queue on Avenue B earlier than 15 minutes prior to school dismissal times.

The revised traffic study also suggested that parking restrictions be implemented on certain residential streets nearby.  The City will continue looking at those over the summer and once school starts up again in the fall, in consultation with the neighbors.  None of that affects the permit amendment, because it’s not something that could be required of HISD as a condition to approval.  The City retains its inherent right—and responsibility—to manage parking and traffic on city streets, outside the school grounds.

HISD presently anticipates staying three more semesters, until January 2020.  Once the new Kolter is built and Kolter North is vacated, the amendment will terminate and revert back to the underlying specific use permit for baseball and softball, which was approved last September as part of the reconstruction of Bellaire High School.  Meanwhile, the new high school building itself is now underway, and HISD has made alternative arrangements for the baseball and softball teams while they await their new fields.

Approval of the permit amendment was never really in doubt, for the same reason that Kolter North was administratively okayed in the first place after Harvey.  But with the temporary use now extended, it needed to go through the formal process so that we could identify and address its impacts on the surrounding residential area.  The City of Bellaire is happy to be able to help our neighbors and to provide the children of Kolter Elementary and their families some much-needed stability while their school is rebuilt and they continue their recovery from the flood.

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