Bellaire embracing proposed rail route

June 9, 2008 5:14:32 PM PDT
METRO's light rail expansion has raised controversy in some neighborhoods, where residents are dead set against rail coming near their homes. But in Bellaire, we're seeing the city embrace the idea and taking steps to develop neighborhoods along the future rail route. In a tiny corner of Bellaire, the wild sunflowers outnumber the people. That is, until the train comes to town.

METRO's proposed line will run along Westpark and across Westlyan, Newcastle and South Rice. Next to the proposed lines is several tracts of prime Bellaire real estate. Right now, the land is used mostly for storage.

"Somewhere along here will be station," said Bellaire City Manager Bernie Satterwhite.

Satterwhite and other city planners wonder about the area's potential.

"Transit-oriented development is a term that being widely used around the country and what it is, is a mixed-use urban development surrounded around rail," said Sadderwhite.

What Satterwhite means is not just a rail station, but a whole development, like one outside of Dallas. Mockingbird Station is a place where people live, work, eat, shop and of course, ride.

Bellaire's idea is in the early stages, but the city and METRO have hired an architect to come up with a plan, the same planner who designed the heart of METRO's rail line -- downtown Main Street.

Opinions of the idea are mixed.

"The Westpark Tollway is great, so if they have more development there, that's fine with me," said resident Allen Efron, who likes the idea.

"Bellaire has always been a city of homes," said Leslie Urnovitz, who supports the rail. "And that's why it's appealing to me. I hope they can keep the integrity of that."

The only thing the city owns is the street. All of the lots nearby are privately owned. So any development would have to be done by those owners and the city couldn't make them do anything.

The Bellaire charter prevents its city from taking land through eminent domain for economic development. So now the ultimate decision will rest in the hands of Bellaire land owners.

"It may not be any more than it is and these property owners may not want it to be anymore than it is and that's up to them," said Satterwhite.

It's a future that could hold dramatic changes for a part of town that's going to get rail, whether residents are ready or not.

The city will pay the architects about $13,000 for their conceptual design.

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