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Council Okays Super Block Survey

January 12, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

By a 3-1 vote, the West U City Council on Monday approved conducting a survey of a random sample of registered voters to gauge public opinion on a long-range master plan for the so-called “Super Block.”

After a handful of West U residents expressed mixed feelings about the survey, the council decided to proceed with the random sample by Dr. Richard Murray, a well-respected pollster at the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy.

Councilman Dick Yehle cast the lone vote against the survey, and Councilman Ed Heathcott abstained.

Yehle said he did not think the survey would satisfy the “adversaries” of the city’s long-range master plan for city facilities, which involves the creation of a municipal campus on some lots owned by West University Baptist Church. Heathcott, a deacon of the church, has been abstaining on votes involving the controversial plan.

Murray met with the council during a part of its executive session before the regularly scheduled council meeting. He suggested that a survey sampling registered voters could be quickly completed.

But some West U residents said the survey would be “a waste of money.”

“I think it’s a waste of taxpayer money to have a survey about something that is already decided,” said West U resident A.A. Drewes. “Why do we need a survey, anyway? You’ve already decided this.”

West U resident Eddie Matthews said, however, that he supports the idea of a survey. But, he suggested that the “random sample,” allow property owners who would be most affected by the city’s long-range facilities master plan to participate.

David Dutch, another West U resident, said he wants more “transparency” about the cost of the city’s long-term plan for municipal buildings.

West U Mayor Bob Fry said that the council is merely paving the way for future city councils to build new city buildings on a block bordered by University Blvd., and Auden, Amherst and College Sts.

City Manager Michael Ross said he hopes that the survey could be completed, with the results presented to the council as early as February 23.

“I think it will certainly help to know residents’ sentiments,” Ross said.

Ross said the draft survey Murray has prepared will include information about the city’s long-range master plan for city buildings, with two simple questions: whether residents think the creation of a municipal campus is a good idea, and whether residents think that moving the Public Works’ operation facilities to the old Recycle Express property is a good idea.

The council also met in executive session with San Antonio attorney Lowell Denton about religious land use in cities and other related matters.

Denton is considered a legal expert about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which governs the property rights of religious institutions. That law, as well as a Texas statute, has figured prominently in discussions of the city’s long-range plan to create a municipal campus, in real estate transactions that could involve West University Baptist Church. The church had proposed building a Youth Center on land it now owns on Amherst St., which would block the city’s plan to create a Super Block of municipal buildings on the block bordered by University Blvd., Auden, Amherst and College Sts. The long-range facilities plan calls for a potential real estate transaction in which the city and the church would “trade” the church properties on Amherst for the city’s Public Works operations and maintenance facility on Milton St. That way, the church could built its new Youth Center on Milton, without blocking any future municipal campus.

The issue has been controversial in West U since the long-range master plan was first unveiled in early October.

In other action, the council unanimously approved calling a February 9 joint public hearing with the West U Zoning and Planning Commission on a proposed new set of regulations for non-single family residential properties in the city. The joint public hearing will be the culmination of a year-long effort by the city to rewrite the zoning ordinance for commercial properties in West U.

3 Responses to “Council Okays Super Block Survey”

  1. MiltonWatchDog Says:

    Does Fry/Council/Ross think we’re stupid???? Survey will be a waste of our money since the questions are worded in a way that most uninformed citizens will likely vote YES. Without financial transparency and clarification of the legalities of this issue, moving forward on any land swap, or any part of this plan, would be another slap in the face of our citizens.

  2. Bob Kelly. Former Mayor Says:

    RESPOND AGAINST SUPER BLOCK AND LAND SWAPS IN WEST U SURVEY

    In October 2014, the West University City Council, without any citizen input, expert legal advice, or a detailed cost analysis, approved a Facilities Master Plan. The Master Plan declared a West U City Super Block (the block where City Hall and Police Station are located, which includes four private residences whose property values have been adversely affected). The Master Plan also provides for a land swap with West University Baptist Church (WUBC). The City’s Public Works Administration property on Amherst and Public Works Maintenance property on Milton would be exchanged for land owned by WUBC within the Super Block. The City would then move and rebuild its maintenance facilities on land owned by the City outside of West U (the former Recycle Express Center on Dincans).

    The City Council’s actions were in reaction to WUBCannouncing that it wanted to build a “Launch Youth Ministries” building and parking lots on land it owns in the Super Block. This land is zoned “single family residential”. According to emails obtained through a public information request, WUBCthought they needed a zoning variance to build a Youth Center. The City Council does not believe that the City’s zoning laws can restrict the church to residential development, but no comprehensive written legal opinion has been requested by the City to answer this issue. So, with this unsupported belief that the City cannot limit buildings in the Super Block to single family residences, the City Council moved forward with the Master Plan land swaps so that WUBC would build the Youth Center on Milton and the City would acquire the church’s land within the Super Block.

    Eventually, after hundreds of West U citizens demanded a citizen survey asking their opinions on the Master Plan, it appears the City Council may finally survey West U citizens to determine if they want a Super Block, land swaps, and relocation of maintenance facilities, although City Council is still debating among themselves whether to do such a survey. However, our citizens have not received any compelling justification or detailed cost analysis for Council’s actions. Further, there is no detectable support for the Super Block and land swaps. In fact, hundreds of our citizens showed up at Council and Town Hall meetings protesting City Council actions on this matter. No one showed up to support Council’s actions.

    The major problem with moving forward on the Master Plan now is that there is no detailed cost analysis with supporting documents (i.e. appraisals, rebuilding cost, lost tax revenue, etc) for selling or relocating the Public Works facilities or a written legal opinion as to whether a church youth center can be built on residential zoned property. The City also has not analyzed how moving the maintenance facility to Dincans would affect the value of the City’s adjacent property on Westpark or the ability of the City to reopen the Recycle Express center should commodities prices again make the center profitable. Thus, it is impossible for our Council or our citizens to evaluate the Master Plan.

    The City Council is basically attempting to dig itself out of a hole it created by not attempting to get our citizens’ input first. A survey should have been done in Aug/Sept 2014 after collecting detailed information regarding the value of City properties and the cost of relocating the Public Works facilities. In fact, it is only being done now due to our citizens’ outcry. Many of our citizens believe that the City Council wants theSuper Block and land swaps regardless of what West U citizens think. Councilman Yehle even commented that it’s too complicated for our citizens to understand, and then asked how a survey could possibly affect continuing to go forward with the Super Block and land swaps.

    One side note: the land swaps would have included the buildings/lands occupied by the West U/Harris County Library, the West U Community Building, and the West U Senior Citizens Building if it were not for Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack getting the County Attorney’s office involved. Council was rushing the Master Plan through so fast that no title research was done on these properties. The County Attorney’s office found that any attempt by the City to sell these particular lands would cause the lands to revert to the heirs of the original owners who gave these properties to the City. We do not know whether title research has been done on the remaining properties to be transferred to WUBC.

    The sole reason given by Council for the extreme rush to implement the Master Plan and land swaps with WUBC is that the church must break ground on their new building in early 2015. Thus, to keep WUBC from building their new building on church property in the Super Block, Council wants to get the West U Milton property transferred to the church as soon as possible. All this rush is being done without any input from West U citizens as to whether they even want a Super Block,land swaps, or the relocation of the Public Works maintenance facility to the former Recycle Express property on Dincans.

    Because these important cost and appraisal questions remain unanswered by the City, the former Mayors, Council Members, and other concerned citizens listed below recommend that responses to the questions asked in the survey be against the Master Plan, the Super Block, the land swaps, and moving the Public Works Maintenance Facilities outside of the City of West U.

    It is extremely important that you respond to the survey as soon as you receive it, letting the Council know whether you are for or against the Master Plan, the Super Block, and the land swaps. If you believe the survey questions do not call for answers that adequately reflect whether you are for or against the Master Plan, Super Block, and land swaps, then you should write your position on the survey.

    Former Mayors: John Neighbors, Burt Ballanfant, and Bob Kelly

    Former Council Members: Stan McCandless, Chuck Guffey

    Mardi Turner, Brennan Reilly, Vernon Tyger, David Dutch, and David Kuykendall

  3. David Says:

    Nobody was against the survey. Eddie Matthews remarks were somewhat sarcastic yet honest when she stated why do the survey if such a stubborn council is pushing it through without regard to the concerns of it’s citizens. You need to take the bias out of your reporting George(and staff).

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