A fiery 5-hour City Hall melee. Affluent Bellaire residents dressed in sloganized T-shirt uniforms. Distrust. Anger. Accusations. At stake: 30 acres of prime property on the West Loop. In the open market, the land would be appropriate for a mixed-use project that could rival Gerald Hines’ Galleria, which is just a mile or two away, Acquired last year by SLS Properties from Chevron, the property has frontage on Loop 610, South Rice Avenue and Fournace. In the open market of no-zoning Houston, the new development could be transformative. But it’s in the municipality of Bellaire, a zoned city that once had the slogan: “Bellaire – A City of Homes.”
Things came to a rolling boil last week as developer Danny Sheena presented his ambitious plan to Bellaire’s Planning & Zoning Commission:
BELLAIRE, Texas – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – As emotions ran high, the July meeting of the Bellaire Planning & Zoning Commission went off with fireworks.
Seven commissioners and a standing-room-only crowd heard SLS Properties’ plans for the 30.5-acre site where 900 Chevron employees once labored.
New owner Danny Sheena of SLS Properties revealed plans for apartments, a movie theater and a gym on the west side of the prime tract. The first two floors of the proposed structure will be a parking garage with residential levels above.
“Bellaire Place will comparable to BLVD Place on Post Oak and San Felipe,” the developer says, referring to an urban mixed-use project with a Whole Foods, office space and a plethora of restaurants and boutiques at a major Galleria-area intersection.
Sheena did share with shocked residents with the disclosure is now in talks with BLVD Place developer Ed Wulfe about a second apartment tower on the eastern edge of the former Chevron land. A Wulfe entity owns thre adjoining Bellaire parcel, which currently includes the site of a Shell station at the northwest corner of Fournace and Loop 610.
Sheena’s plans don’t sound like paradise to all of the nearby homeowners. Many have concerns about an increase in flooding, crime, traffic, environmental impact and more stress on already overstretched city services.
Residents expressed other concerns about having a high-rise apartment building nearby. “When buying your dream home, how many of you said, `Wow, I’d really like to live next to an 85-foot seven-story apartment building?’” one resident quipped. When the developer purchased the property, he was well-aware that multi-family homes/apartments were not a “permitted use.”
Several residents emphasized that they bought in Bellaire because unlike Houston, Bellaire is zoned and that zoning does not include apartments.
“We’re expecting you to protect our interests. You’re not here to increase the revenue for the city. You are here to look after our safety,” said Bellaire resident Linda Mazzagatti, “Don’t do this to those of us who have invested a lifetime here. My home is sacred to me.”
Backers of Sheena’s new development came to the City Hall meeting wearing white T-shirts with the words, “I Support Bellaire Smart Development.”
Ben Lavine, a partner with Stone Acre Builders, said he hoped for development that would connect the northern part of the City, one that is often called “Barely Bellaire” to the rest of the city in a positive way.
“I was pleased to hear the Commissioners push for a more refined plan,” Lavine said. “I want it to be Bellaire-centric.”
Lavine suggested adding the moniker Bellaire to the development, possibly “the Domain at Bellaire. All we want is positive change that will enhance our quality of life.”
Sheena requested a “specific use permit” to allow for an increase in the maximum building height from 53 feet to 85 feet for the 300-unit complex and parking garage.
Sheena asked for permits for an indoor movie theater and an athletic club within approximately 9.6 acres of the western portion of the site. If approved, those businesses would bring in significant sales tax revenue to the city.
As the contentious meeting neared the 4.5-hour mark, P&Z Chairman Ross Gordon asked for clarity.
Gordon said he would like to make it a condition that Sheena share what the entire plan is, including for the eastern portion. Sheena wants to change the zoning in the Comprehensive Plan from Technical Research Park to a planned development for a 300-unit multi-family complex with parking garage on the 3.15-acre southern portion. He plans to receive rental rates between $2.25-$2.50 per SF.
“It comes back to the whole piece on transparency,” said Gordon. “Surely when you bought the property you had some idea of a master plan. It would inspire more confidence if you would share which movie theatre, gym or which property manager he had in mind.”
Sheena responded, “I don’t have that answer.”
Commission Vice Chairman Mike Axelrad raised questions about the proposed fitness center.
“It will be a quality gym – the gold standard,” responded Sheena. He used the words “high end” ubiquitously, to a point where Chairman Gordon asked for less ambiguity.
“I was very heartened by Gordon’s perceptive observations and questions,” says Cynthia Freeman. “I was also glad about the push for which gym would go in, and not satisfied with Sheena’s assurance that it would be a quality, nice gym.”
“I sure hope that P & Z sticks to NO apartments,” says resident Karen Reichek.
“The trees Sheena promised have not been planted,” says resident Catherine Lewis. “He took out trees to build a wall. If it’s not in writing, it’s not in the plan.”
Flooding is a significant concern. At present, there is only 40 percent lot coverage and Sheena’s plan would increase that to 75 percent; a frightening increase in cement given the devastating effect Harvey had a mere two years ago to other parts of Bellaire. Residents also worry that an additional 300 apartments may put too much strain on Bellaire schools and city services.
Last November, Sheena won approval from Bellaire City Council to lease out the two existing buildings that housed Chevron offices. So far, no tenants have moved in although Sheena says he has two leases in the pipeline. The permits he asked P&Z for this time pertain to his second phase, with the future of the eastern 6.17 acres yet to be revealed.
The Planning and Zoning Commission may receive written comments until July 31, 2019. Bellaire City Council will consider the proposals in August.
July 17, 2019 Realty News Report Copyright 2019