Officials with Houston Methodist brought their latest pitch for a new medical office mixed-use project to a public hearing Dec. 14 in the city of Bellaire, including changes made based on city feedback.

The hearing was hosted by Bellaire's Planning & Zoning Commission, part of the process Methodist must follow as they seek a special "planned development" status to bypass certain zoning ordinances. Although the commission did not take any vote at the Dec. 14 meeting, roughly a dozen residents spoke out or wrote comments in opposition to the project.

The backstory

Houston Methodist previously pitched a different version of its plan for the site—which can be found at 5130 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, a location that formerly housed a Randalls grocery store. The site, one of the major properties in Bellaire's Urban Village Downtown district, has been vacant since the Randalls closed in February 2021.

Members of the Bellaire City Council voted to postpone a decision on Methodist's plans at a July meeting, leaving the door open for Methodist to come back with a different proposal. Council members at the time expressed concerns that Methodist's plans would not be a good fit for the downtown district.

Since then, Methodist has been working to revise its plans to better accommodate what city officials are looking for, including increasing the amount of retail space and adding more underground parking.

The latest

At a Dec. 14 meeting, members of Bellaire's Planning & Zoning Commission heard updates on the project from Joan Albert, principal with Page Southerland Page Inc., the company that filed the application with the city on behalf of Methodist.

Albert listed several updates to Methodist's previous plan, including:
  • Retail space on the first floor of the building was increased from 10,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet
  • Shaded outdoor seating was added around the first-floor retail
  • Plans for a parking garage were eliminated, with parking instead being a combination of 240 underground spaces and 214 surface spaces
  • The square footage of the office space was reduced from 93,200 square feet to 85,000 square feet
  • More green space and trees were added
  • Entrances and exits were limited to right turns only along Bissonnet Street, Bellaire Boulevard and South Rice Avenue
Methodist officials pitch the project as one that will provide Bellaire residents with health care options close to home, create jobs in the city and provide a place for public gatherings.

Zooming in

Several of the elements of the project fall outside of Bellaire's regulations for its Urban Village District, meaning Methodist officials have to seek approval from the city for a variance.

However, Monique Alejos, Bellaire's development review coordinator, confirmed Methodist's plan for the use of the site are within the uses allowed in the UVD, and the project meets the city's criteria for a planned development.

Alejos presented city staff's analysis of the project, including elements that fall outside of the UVD requirements:
  • At least 75% of the building facade facing the street should be at front of the property line with zero feet of setback. In Methodist's plans, the building is not pushed out to the property line and is more centered into site.
  • The UVD specifies that parking should be in the center with retail and restaurants lining the property.
City staff did not find an issue with approving the building, Alejos said, and left it to the commission members to decide if plans fit the "spirit" of the downtown district.

What else

A traffic study done for the project confirmed it would not reduce levels of service at any of the intersections surrounding the project, Albert said.

The project is also located within the 100-year flood plain, and Methodist's plans include underground detention and retention. The project will be connected into an existing 54-inch storm sewer pipeline on Bellaire Boulevard, and Albert said it is not anticipated to impact the city’s storm drainage system.

What they're saying

Roughly a dozen Bellaire residents spoke out against the project during the Dec. 14 hearing or submitted written comments against the project.

Even with Methodist's updates, resident concerns still revolved around the project not being a good fit for one of the city's few major downtown properties.

"I haven’t heard any of my neighbors ... excited Methodist is coming to town," resident Pat Adams said.

Jackie Georgiou, a Bellaire resident who was recently elected to the Bellaire City Council, said she wanted to see an architect that specialized in urban architecture take on the design.

"It can be done, but it needs an expert and it needs an urban expert," she said. "We need to be proud of that development. It needs to bring people together. It has to be a place that we are happy to be ... and it contributes to the tax base. It's not Methodist's line of business to design an urban village."

Methodist is leasing the property through an agreement with Kimco Realty, which owns it. Commissioner Jamie Perkins asked project representatives if they could provide legal assurances that Methodist would not buy the property from Kimco, an act that could impair the city's ability to collect property taxes on the site because Methodist is a nonprofit. Several residents also expressed similar concerns.

Methodist officials said Kimco has no desire to sell the property and Methodist has no plans to buy it, but said they would have to discuss any legal assurances with their legal department before providing a full answer.

What's next

Bellaire officials and Methodist are working to refine plans before the Planning & Zoning Committee will eventually vote on whether to recommend the plans to the Bellaire City Council. Albert said teams are still working on some elements, such as the exact materials that will be used.

No retail shops have been identified for the project at this time.

If commissioners reject the project, Methodist is planning to submit a new design that would be fully compliant with the city's UVD. A fully compliant plan would not need to be approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission and could be administratively approved, Alejos said.

In the meantime, Bellaire residents can submit public feedback on the project through 5 p.m. Jan. 4 by bringing written comments to Bellaire City Hall or emailing them to [email protected].