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.

Last week the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council met in a joint workshop session to discuss initiating a Comprehensive Plan review.  Because before we can consider making changes to the zoning code, we must first begin with the Comprehensive Plan.  That’s the order of operations mandated by state law, and it focuses our attention on the big picture—what does Bellaire want? (planning)—which will then drive decisions at the more granular level (zoning), while promoting consistency between the two.  It also encourages the more deliberately inclusive public process that’s the hallmark of developing a consensus vision reflective of the community as a whole.

Besides, our last such review having been in 2015, we’re long overdue.  It’s a recognized best practice, and in fact our Plan itself calls for a review every five years.  One was scheduled for 2020, but we all know why that didn’t happen.  Until now we hadn’t picked it up again, though it’s been discussed from time to time, and even some incremental progress made in fits and starts at P&Z.

The stage is now set to commence a review in fairly short order.  Both P&Z and Council are eager to get going, and in the joint workshop rather quickly reached consensus on some key points, including that we’ve already got a pretty good idea what are the areas of greatest concern that we should focus on first.  Keeping in mind, however, that even if prompted by certain identified concerns, the Comprehensive Plan is reviewed more broadly, and is framed by “what we want,” not by “what we don’t want.”  We’ll continue fleshing out the scope, while also lining up a planning professional to assist in facilitating the process and shepherding it through to timely completion.

Following the direction and momentum coming out of the joint workshop, it’s reasonable to expect we’ll be able to kick off the Comprehensive Plan review early next year.  Public participation is the most indispensable part of the process, and we’ll need input from as many residents and other stakeholders as possible.  No one knows better what Bellaire wants than the people of Bellaire—all of us—and so when the time comes we’ll ask each and every one of you to take part, to ensure whatever consensus vision we adopt is representative of the entire community.

About the Former Randall’s Property

As promised above, though it’s not strictly on topic—because comprehensive planning isn’t about singling out any one proposal or piece of land—this is as good an opportunity as any to clarify the status of the former Randall’s property.  Much ink has been spilled and countless electrons displaced following a conceptual presentation to P&Z last month, just for tentative feedback, on a potential medical building on that site.  It’s great that residents are so interested and engaged, and we love hearing from you!  But it’s also important that everyone understand it’s all still very premature.  There haven’t been any development applications filed, and so at this point there's not really anything to talk about.  It’s all speculation.  Whether or not an application is brought forward, and how it might be modified in response to feedback, remains to be seen.  Furthermore, be assured what was shown in the conceptual presentation would not be allowed by right under existing zoning, and that’s true regardless of the Comprehensive Plan review and its timing.  I hope this clarification will put some minds at ease.