Council Okays New Zoning Ordinance

February 24, 2015

The West U City Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to a new zoning ordinance for commercial properties in the city, after making a major change to the recommendations of the Zoning and Planning Commission.

By a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample dissenting, the council approved new zoning rules for non-single family properties in West U. The changes generally apply to commercial properties on the periphery of the city, and a strip of businesses along Edloe St between University and Rice Blvds.

The year-long effort to rezone the city’s commercial properties was a key priority of the council, and involved work by a steering committee, the ZPC, consultant Gary Mitchell of the Kendig-Keast Collaborative and city staff.

A key reason for the changes was the Prior Non-Conforming Status (PNC) of the businesses on Edloe St. The new zoning ordinance renames that area the Town Center Commercial District, and provides new standards for the reconstruction of those properties. Because of the PNC status of those buildings, the owners would not have been able to rebuild their properties in the event of a major catastrophe, such as a hurricane, flood or fire.

Under an amendment by Councilman Dick Yehle, the Edloe property owners will now be allowed to rebuild only if they follow the new zoning rules. Those rules would:

*limit the buildings to two stories, or no more than 35 feet in height;

*do away with the “head-in” parking along Edloe St., by requiring that new construction be built at the front property line with parking spaces in the back, along Poor Farm Ditch, and;

*would not include a parking garage in Town Center, or any other area of West U.

Yehle proposed an amendment to delete a provision recommended by the ZPC that would have allowed the owners of those properties to seek a “special exception” to the new zoning ordinance from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, in cases of catastrophe and financial need. The ZPC recommendation would have allowed the ZBA to grant an exception in cases where the property owner could show that rebuilding was necessary to avoid substantial economic waste and economic hardship, or; that there would be no substantial adverse effects of the rebuilt structure and that the square footage would be substantially the same.

His amendment was approved, by a 4-1 vote, although Sample questioned whether it could be considered under the provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act and voted against it.

Yehle said that “one of the principles of having PNC status is to keep doing what they are doing. PNC status is not intended to last forever.”

The new zoning ordinance makes changes to zoning rules for the townhome district along Kirby Drive in West U, and include a series of other changes that range from prohibiting parking garages in the city to requiring roof-top equipment to be screened from public view.

The new zoning ordinance will be considered for final approval at the city council’s next meeting, on March 9.

The council also gave its final approval to an ordinance calling for a municipal election on May 9, 2015.