This is a letter from West University Baptist Church Pastor Roger Patterson regarding any possible future land development in West University Place. This is also available by going to http://www.wubc.org/.
FROM THE PASTOR
In recent weeks, there has been much discussion concerning a plan adopted by the City of West University Place concerning a “Super Block” on Amherst and University. The passage of time has resulted in a chorus of misinformation, often communicated with a greater sense of fear and hostility than with truth and respect. Unfortunately, the church’s consideration of plans to build a student ministry building near our West U Campus has become a flash point in the public debate. As those of you who have read some of the local publications can attest, it is not always the goal of those who sell newspapers for a living to provide a fair and balanced spectrum of information. This From the Pastor message is intended to serve as a platform of truth and clarification, while answering three frequently-asked questions about (i) our plans concerning the youth ministry building, (ii) the role of the church in the city’s Super Block, and (iii) the processes followed by the church in developing and approving periodic growth plans.
Hopefully these messages From the Pastor will both inform and equip you with the truth, and perhaps lay the foundation for a more balanced dialogue between the city and its citizens.
- What is the youth ministry building the church is considering?
In West University Place, the city and our church own properties scattered across three blocks that span from the northbound and southbound sides of Amherst and Milton streets. On each of these blocks, the city owns property contiguous to the church and the church owns property contiguous to city property. Both entities have had a long-standing conversation about the possibilities of making better efficiencies of the land, although no formal talks have been held regarding master planning in the last five years.
West University Baptist and Crosspoint Church is full of young families from this community who are striving to raise their children and youth with a strong faith foundation. We have a vibrant ministry to Middle School and High School Students called Launch Student Ministry (www.launchstudents.org). As we continue to grow and reach families, we are striving to provide a relevant student ministry facility that is attractive to students. We are in the process of designing a facility that fits the city ordinance and is within the height and lot coverage regulations. Our preliminary plans for a state-of-the-art youth green-certified facility with approximately 7500 s.f. is intended to one day serve our youth ministry.
The most recent conversations between the church and the city began in the late summer when the church put forth a site plan and basic documentation to begin the formal process to explore development of land the church currently owns on the south side of Amherst. Our intention to build the Launch Student Ministry Center was met with a request by the city to consider an alternative location. As we were discussing the Launch Student Ministry Center, the city leadership mentioned that they were engaged in a master planning process with PGAL.
The church was not aware that the city had already been working with PGAL on its master plan, nor had it been reengaged in conversations about master planning from previous years. The church was simply striving to develop land it has owned for more than 20 years on the south side of Amherst. The church decided it would wait and consider the options the city might bring forth, and that is where the church is today – waiting for the city to decide how it is going to proceed. As a landowner in the city, the church was in the process to develop its land when the city leadership sought to put forth an alternative concept that the church is willing to consider, but is in no position to make any definitive decision because there is nothing formal to analyze. The church is waiting to see the RFP from the city, just like every other landowner in the city. And while there are rumors about what the church plans to do, or what the city and the church have already agreed to do, there is no truth to those rumors.
- How does the church fit into the Super Block plan the city has adopted?
Other than being the owner of land that the city has signaled it plans to include in its Super Block, the church has not been involved in, nor do we expect to be involved with, the planning process. Although some people have taken issue with the fact that many of our congregants are unaware of our plans to build the facility for the Launch Student Ministry, our process of development and approval of a project like this is to see how it develops before presenting or submitting it to our internal approval processes. For some people, the Super Block project is unacceptable simply because of the way the city has gone forward to develop and adopt its master plan. Many feel they have not had a chance to weigh in on that, and there are four homeowners who have learned that the city plans to purchase their homes from them someday. The church understands that the citizens of this city want a proper process for the actions the city takes, and if the city feels it should take more time to hear and receive input from its citizens, the church understands and has no opposition to this approach. The church is content with its plans to develop the property it owns on Amherst, but it is also open to considering alternatives that fit within the city’s long-range plans for the Super Block. Some of the narrative surrounding the Super Block stems around the perception that the church is coveting its neighbor’s property and trying to grab land. The church has been accused of not being a good neighbor and is being seen as somehow being on a conquest to gobble up large amounts of land. The church has not purchased property since its move to become a multi-site congregation in 2004. At that that time, it purchased what is now known as Crosspoint Church Bellaire (www.cpointchurch.org) and functions as a vibrant multi-site congregation.
The church is not an author, advocate or opponent of the Super Block. We remain in a wait and see mode, just as other property owners. The concept of the Super Block is the city’s idea and its merits should be advocated and justified by them. The church owns seven of the affected lots that rest within the boundary of what may someday become the Super Block, so the church is eager to understand what the city is proposing. The church has received no formal request for proposal at the time of the writing of this document.
As we wait, we want to communicate to our neighbors that we strive to be good neighbors, and I believe we do so in many ways. We work hand-in-hand with the city when there is a crisis in the community and we provide every day support for many community activities and services provided by the city. We do so with no expectation of profit, reward or recognition. But when we are accused by many people of being something other than a good neighbor, based on misinformation or distortions of the truth, we have no choice but to set the record straight. During 2008, when Hurricane Ike came through the city, the church opened its doors to the fire and police and became the hub of their activity, as their facilities were not properly equipped for the crisis that hit. West University Baptist made its gym, buildings, and kitchen available to all emergency personnel so that the city could continue to function, and its citizens were able to benefit from the much needed help in difficult times.
Additionally, the church works daily with the city to support some of the fundamental needs and services that residents of West University Place receive. If you have participated in heavy trash day, your trash has been placed in our parking lots because the city has no other way to provide this service to you. If you have attended a program in the Senior Services Building, a sports event at the athletic fields, a field day at school, or checked out a book from the library while using the parking lots on Milton, there is good chance you have parked in the church’s parking lots. We also provide parking for the city employees of the public works department who pick up trash from the curbs throughout the city, and we are delighted to help in other ways when needed. So while we understand the emotions and outcry, we feel that it is unfair to paint the church with colors of greed, envy or suspicion. We have done nothing other begin the process of considering our options as the owner of land in West University Place. We respect the rights of others and make every effort to consider those when developing our plans for growth and expansion. Do we expect support for what we develop to be unanimous? No.
Do we expect there will be differing views? Yes. Although we cannot control whether there will be a fair and balanced narrative surrounding the Super Block, what we can control is the information that comes from the church to the public.
The church and the city co-exist within a constrained environment, and work together every day to provide fundamental services to this community and its citizens. If the city’s long- term plans for the Super Block stem from a need to provide more facilities and ways to better serve the people of West University Place without having to be too dependent on the church to accomplish these goals, we see nothing wrong with the church’s willingness to consider what the city has to offer — not just to us, but any other person or entity in the public.
When the church brought forth its plan to develop land contiguous to the central offices of the city, the city, striving to have forethought, took a hard look and asked the church to consider an alternative. The church has honored the request of city leadership to allow it to go through its process before the church goes through its own evaluative processes. The church, striving to be a good neighbor, is delaying the construction of a much needed facility for our young people, until the city makes up its mind as to what course it takes.
We are not trying to gobble up all of Rice Street, trying to manipulate any process, nor coveting any property. We have a duty to evaluate our land and facility needs as our church expands and our church families grow. We have more than enough to say grace over, from a planning standpoint, and our immediate plans relate solely to our current properties. However, like every other land owner in the city, we have the right to consider other options as they are presented to us in the future. For now, we stand by, waiting. Once the city takes its action, the church will decide how it should go about its course to develop its property and be a vibrant resource to families.
- What processes does the church follow for developing/approving growth plans?
West University Baptist Church is in a season of growth and future planning. Over the last 16 months, we have been developing a strategic plan to maximize the talents we have been entrusted with by the Lord. We have formed teams from within the congregation to study ways to multiply our influence because of an accelerated vision. We have been provided resources and wise counsel for reaching out to the community and city through three areas of ministry, missions, and mercy to the city. Additionally, we have formed a team to examine our facilities at our West U and Bellaire Campuses.
All of these reports have been or will be submitted to the Executive Council at the appropriate time to discern how we are to go about our planning, budgeting, and funding of these opportunities to serve others. It is our church’s process to bring forth the church business from the Executive Council, through our deacon body, to the congregation. As a church that is congregationally governed, we are autonomous, and do not report to a diocese or bishop over a district. The church staff and its Executive Council cannot buy or sell property until and unless there is congregational approval. Although one of church members who is a very qualified and internationally respected architect has prepared some preliminary drawings, which are available on our website here, I encourage you to be mindful of the fact that they are only preliminary drawings. Much work remains, not just to develop the drawings, but to develop the full plan and submit it to our church approval process.
We remain prayerful in this season of uncertainty, recognizing the political winds that we can neither predict nor control. Rumors and misinformation serve as the fuel for fear and hostility. All we ask is that before people judge our church or jump to conclusions, they consider the possibility that once they collect and consider the truth from reliable sources, there may be less cause for concern or castigation. When every viewpoint is considered through a prism of truth and wisdom, much can be accomplished for the greater good.
Dr. Roger Patterson