Halfway There: Council Approves First Reading of Town Center Zoning Changes

December 12, 2011

The West U City Council tonight approved the first reading of an ordinance that will establish new zoning regulations in the town center retail district.

With a four-to-one vote, council approved recommendations from the Zoning and Planning Commission and the Town Center Ad Hoc Committee to create a new zoning district designation for the tracts of land located south of Rice Boulevard, north of University, east of Edloe and west of Poor Farm Ditch.

Council will have to approve two readings of the ordinance for the changes to take effect.

The city council handed off the Town Center report to the ZPC after the ad hoc committee presented it last January. Council then directed the ZPC to begin drafting proposals for zoning amendments to Edloe Street.

The proposed changes are recommended because in the event of a catastrophic loss, the buildings would lose prior non-conforming status. The current code allows 50 percent of the existing floor space to be reconstructed, which could lead to an economically blighted area.

The amendments enable the retail area of the town center to be reconstructed or redeveloped through private investment.

The zoning changes include:

–          Establish a definition and boundaries for the Town Center Retail District (TCDR)

–          Establish allowable uses in the TCDR

–          Establish regulations for front, side and rear yard (setbacks), visual buffering, maximum height of all structures, minimum parking requirements and exterior finishes of structures

–          Require the first floor of all structures to be at grade level

–          Allow for an above-grade parking structure for a unified development of two or more adjacent building sites and establish minimum standards for height limits, noise, lighting and exterior finishing materials.

Council directed staff in September to budget $60,000 for a non-residential zoning study for the commercial areas in the city and asked that the town center be rolled into the project.

After hearing positive feedback from residents and property owners during a public hearing on Nov. 7, council decided to move forward with the proposed changes.

Seven people addressed the council tonight with their comments about the proposal.

Vernon Tyger, who owns a house on Wroxton, told the council that he has concerns about the height requirements, which would allow for a 35 foot building with a special exception for 42 feet.

Tyger, who also voiced his concerns to the ZPC in November, said he thinks its “silly” to allow a three-story commercial building across from the West University Elementary School.

On Dec. 2, Tyger polled 22 parents parked outside the elementary school, asking if they preferred no change in the height requirements, a change with 35 feet or a change of 45 feet. Of the people he polled, 82 percent preferred no change, he said.

Three Occupy Houston protestors, who were asked to attend the meeting by a concerned resident, also addressed council, saying that they needed to be “transparent” about the issue.

“Economic blight is probably not going to come ever in West University Place,” said Joe Roach, who listed his address as Tranquility Park in Houston. “Keep the peace. Don’t pass it.”

Former councilmember George Boehme told the council that the proposal cleans up an “antiquated mess.”

“I think that this is a fabulous proposal,” he said, adding that if the city had to pay for the report, it could cost more than $100,000.

Boehme is the CEO of InstantNewsNetwork.com, InstantNewsWestU.com’s parent company.

Councilman Ed Heathcott echoed Boehme’s comments and said that there already are buildings in West U that exceed 35 feet and thought they should go ahead and accept the proposal.

In response to the comments about being transparent, Councilwoman Joan Johnson said the committee’s report has always included the height requirements.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample, who voted against the proposed changes, said she knows the zoning ordinance needs to be cleaned up, but after hearing some of the comments tonight she’d like to look at the proposal further.

Council did not close its public hearing and residents can still comment on the changes. Council is expected to vote on the second reading at its first meeting in January.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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