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City Negotiates with Church, ZBA to Deliberate

February 24, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

While the West U City Council negotiates with West University Baptist Church, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will deliberate Thursday on two special exceptions sought by the church for its new Youth Ministry Facility.

The council on Monday held a brief executive session on real estate negotiations with the church, over a possible land swap of city-owned property on Milton St. for church-owned property on Amherst St.

The potential land swap involves the controversial “Super Block,” in the city’s long-range plan for Municipal Facilities.

City Manager Michael Ross said that during the executive session, “We were briefing the council on the negotiations between the city and the church. We hope to have something for the council to discuss in March, and a proposal in April.”

West U Mayor Bob Fry said he hopes that the council “would like to get this done before we go out of office. The church needs to move (on their plan to build a new Youth Center.) They’re going to get it done — either on Amherst or Milton.”

Meanwhile, West University Baptist Church has filed two notices of applications for special exceptions that will be heard Thursday by the West U Zoning Board of Adjustment. The church’s applications, filed by Senior Pastor Roger Patterson, strongly indicate that the church plans to build a new 7,200 square foot Youth Ministry Facility on city-owned property on Milton, and a new parking lot on Amherst.

The first notice, for the Youth Center, states: “ West U Baptist Church (6218 Auden St) is seeking a special exception to locate a youth ministry facility and adjacent parking area on the building site (3 lots) located at 3826 Milton Street (Northeast corner of College and Milton St.). The ordinance allows places of worship and their normal uses, including parking, in any zoning district, but requires assembly type occupancies to obtain a special exception for high density occupancy and accessory uses when located in a single family district.”

In its second notice of application, the church states: “West U Baptist Church (6218 Auden St) is seeking a special exception to locate a parking area on the building site (3 lots) located at 3821/3831 Amherst Street.”

The city of West U recently mailed a random survey to 1,300 residents, to gather public input about the city’s long-range Master Plan for City Facilities. The plan, which has generated controversy from many residents, calls for the creation of a “Super Block” of municipal facilities between University, Auden, Amherst and College Sts.

The plan includes real estate transactions between the city and the church, which involves the potential swap of church-owned property on Amherst for the city-owned property on Milton. The city property currently houses the maintenance operations for West U’s Public Works Department.

Several residents spoke out against the plan at Monday’s city council meeting.

In its application to build its new Youth Center, the church described the new building.

“The new building will be ‘residential style’ in appearance — utilizing brick and masonry and concrete plaster, however the building will include commercial features such as steel structure, fire sprinkler system, access for the physically impaired and energy efficiency” features.

“The grounds will be fully landscaped with a high-efficiency water sprinkler system. The building and adjacent parking lot will be solid-fenced at adjacent residential facilities (north side) and buffered with trees and shrubbery.”

“Use of the Youth Ministry is limited to middle school children and senior high children — consequently, the building will include a ‘catering kitchen’ with no heat-producing appliances.”

The church notes that church policy “strictly forbids” smoking, drinking alcohol and use of controlled substances.

Although 140 children are currently involved in attending youth services at the church, the church anticipates that growth in the ministry will result in 240 children participating.

The church’s application states that the hours of operation will be Sunday mornings, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with “special events, such as Cub and Boy Scout meetings.”

A preliminary traffic study was performed for the church by JKnesek & Associates. In a letter to the church, traffic engineer Jason Knesek wrote that construction of the new Youth Center “is projected to change the volume of vehicular activity in the area. Further investigation will be required.”

In the church’s second application, West University Baptist proposes to build a 40- to 45-space parking lot on three lots located at 3821 to 3831 Amherst.

In its application, the church states: “West U Baptist Church believes the new parking lot meets the requirement for a special exception since the lot is accessory to a lawful primary use and compatible with nearby sites and their uses, specifically the new parking lot is compatible with the adjacent church parking lot and the city parking area.”

The proposed new parking lot would be located directly across the street from the city’s Public Works Administration building and the WUBC education and gymnasium building.

The church noted in its application that the proposed new parking area would provide additional parking for West U residents attending ball games or West U city council meetings.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment is scheduled to meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

 

 

23 Responses to “City Negotiates with Church, ZBA to Deliberate”

  1. Lucille Gallman Says:

    I really don’t understand why disagreeing makes one anti-church or good grief, anti-youth.

  2. David Says:

    Where do you live Stephen? The new facility is in my backyard. I have asked questions of this council for months and just keep getting a cold shoulder. For the Hundredth time: I have never been against the superblock concept or necessarily against the youth center. I simply want coherent answers to my questions about traffic and the dis regard for my neighbors. Putting a parking lot next to my neighbors and building this building out my window deserves honest answers. This council and city manager have been petrified of my questions since this whole thing started. What are they afraid of? Who are you afraid of Stephen?

    • West U Resident Says:

      Face it David. Admit it to yourself, you’re against the Youth Center. You don’t want coherent answers or transparency or whatever else you’re spouting to cover up your venom for this project. You just want it somewhere else (or nowhere). Stephen D. has a point. The maintenance facility looks bad, smells bad and it creates a lot of truck traffic. You make all sorts of demands hoping one of them will turn out to be a reason to torpedo the project. If the city did everything you said, you’d come up with something new they should do, and somehow say that lack of transparency was involved if they didn’t. You want this project to go down in flames for the church. Admit it. It’s just your personal preference. It has nothing to do with “answers from the city” or “transparency”. At least you could just be honest with the people and honest with yourself. If all the yellers would just go ahead and say they don’t want the church or their Youth Center near their house (instead of throwing buzzwords around that are just smoke and mirrors to hide their personal preferences), it would go a lot further towards an honest discussion.

      • david Says:

        I am not opposed to it on Amherst on the current lots they own. The problem is the residents who live on that block are opposed to it. This is a very congested area. I am afraid an ever expanding wubc will exacerbate the congestion.

  3. Resident comment Says:

    This is not about the Baptist Church or being Anti-Religious. It could be the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts involved. The issue as this has developed is that the City Manager and the City Council is suppose to put West U and West U’s residential firsts, get input, put together documents that help justify what their rational is. This did not happen and still is not happening. I bet the folks that run the Baptist church are a bit embarrassed by how the the City has handled this.

    • FJV Says:

      That is what religious zealots typically do. When they do not have a serious argument to present they retrieve to the traditional position of “victim”. It is good that the First Amendment of the Constitution still allows us the right to express our opinions, which they would love to see eliminated.

      But that is all we can do…just express our opinions. We cannot fight WBUC and City Council. The former operates as a cabal with well placed roots everywhere, and the latter obviously and blatantly answers to WUBC’s special interests and does not act in the best interest of the citizens of West University.

      I’ve said it before I will say it again. All these hearings, brochures, ZBA petitions, and surveys are simply pro-forma. From all that has happened to this date from the time this whole affair was publicly announced, it would be apparent to any impartial and objective observer that this whole thing has probably been already decided and approved behind closed doors. Follow the events and it will be clear.

      I will be incredibly surprised if any part of what WUBC is requesting is not approved.

      • Lucille Gallman Says:

        I’m an outsider, but do like to follow what goes on in West U since my family was one of the original settlers of what has become a great place to live. When we moved into West University Place, our friends and family said it was just too far out. I don’t blame residents for being concerned about construction going on next door no matter who is doing it. I think the belief that this is all a done deal is correct. Years ago, what was originally a lot with a house on college near University became a vacant lot and was to become a parking lot. After much discussion probably on Instant News, the parking lot plan seemed to be defeated. However, someone high up stated that eventually it would be a parking lot.

  4. proreligionwestu Says:

    The anti-religion zealots just can’t help themselves. You all keep digging your hole so the slate of anti-religion candidates can be buried in it. So there are surprised people that the church and the city are communicating during this negotiated property exchange process. Really?

  5. sharond@gmail.com Says:

    Thank you, Brennan, for this valuable information. The collaboration between the Pastor of the Church and our City Manager and Staff is clear. That our Mayor and City Council continues to play along and push this with a directive to withhold pertinent information from the residents is disturbing. Can we request a list of the addresses chosen for the “random” survey sent out at our expense? I am curious if addresses with orange signs in their yards may not have been included.

    References to those asking for an honest and open process as “anti-church” is ignorant. The fact that we paid for the Church’s traffic study is also ignorant.

    • Anne Marie Kilday Says:

      The Freedom of Information Act is a federal statute that governs federal agencies. In Texas, The Texas Open Records Act will get you most of the information you want from local and state government. The Texas Legislature has provided some “exceptions” to information that can be made public.

    • Beverly@gmail.com Says:

      Have you seen the “survey” sent out by the University of Houston? Not really worth the postage. How were the recipients chosen? The word “random” is somewhat suspect.

  6. anticommercialstructuresinresidentialzonedareas Says:

    Why does the city have to grant these special exceptions? I’m pretty certain they wouldn’t grant me one to build a parking lot next door to my house.

  7. sharond@gmail.com Says:

    Can we request a list of the addresses chosen for the “random” survey sent out at our expense? I am curious if addresses with orange signs in their yards may not have been included. Worth checking, as the collaboration between our City Manager and the Pastor to get this deal done is not looking good. That our Mayor and City Council are pushing this without proper due diligence is disturbing.

  8. K. Vargas Says:

    When I was in school I was thought that citizens govern not corporations. (Yes, I consider the Baptist Church a corporation) Corporations can’t be allowed to take over towns. Corporations threaten and hold towns hostage. Granting these 2 special exceptions would mean that the corporations have won and the citizens have lost. That is not Democracy.

  9. Pastor Rogers Says:

    Does Pastor Rogers attend the council meetings to represent the church’s interests?

  10. Brennan Reilly Says:

    The point of posting the City and church emails below is to show that the City is not treating all residents fairly. I expect West U Baptist Church and Pastor Patterson to be advocates for the church’s interest, which are not always the same as the interests of its neighbors or the broader public. I don’t begrudge the pastor at all for being 100% devoted to his congregation and getting the best deal possible for the church.

    The problem is that the City has been ignoring the interests of neighboring residents and the broader public from the beginning. The City Planner, Debbie Scarcella, wrote in an email that the church “will need to prove through the [Zoning Board of Adjustment exception application] that they are not substantially increasing traffic, significantly increasing on-street parking and substantially increasing traffic congestion.” The burden of proof is important. Our zoning laws exist to protect single family residents and their property values. Instead of being a fair judge of whether the interests of neighboring residents are protected, the City has denigrated their concerns and devoted its staff and thousands of dollars to assisting the church in proving its case. The City has not done the same for St. Mark’s Episcopal Church even though it has a similar ZBA application pending.

    It is beyond time for the City Council and City staff to look out for the public interest and fairly take into account the concerns of neighboring residents and the broader public. A good start would be to appoint a task force to fairly and publicly evaluate all aspects of the land swap and the best uses for City properties, including the Dincans/Westpark property.

    • West U Resident Says:

      Brennan can argue all day about good government, transparency and the like, but in reality Brennan’s sole interest is keeping the church away from his house. The transparency and tax dollars assertions he keeps making are just a smokescreen to get the result he wants. If this were across town, he could care less. This is totally self serving on his part, and has nothing to do with how much he cares for how the city is run. Brennan is a shining example of a self-serving individual and he demonstrates a complete lack of transparency by lying about his true motives. He did the same thing with everything Little League and girl’s softball tried to do at West U Elementary – because guess what – it was near his house and he didn’t want to be disturbed. He had the same tired arguments, but his bottom line was that he didn’t want any changes near his house. I know his church St. Vincent is looking to expand into the neighborhood it abuts, but I’m sure that’s no problem with him – it’s far from where he lives, so who cares about transparency or accountability in that case, right?

      • David Says:

        Did you read the emails between the Pastor and our city manager Michael Ross? Another building on Amherst in ten years? Parking lots on land that are to be swapped to the city? Do you realize these new parking lots will go in next two three of our resident’s homes? Do you want a parking lot next to your home? This thing is being handled in such a filthy way it reminds me of a mini Watergate scandal. You see nothing wrong with this whole process?

      • Beverly@gmail.com Says:

        Politics of personal destruction have no place here. What is happening here is wrong, and in the best interest of WUBC. No harm in exposing the rats and clearing the nests before we clean the barn.

  11. Brennan Reilly Says:

    Some in the City may prefer to spend millions to replicate the maintenance facility, but I think the majority do not. If you don’t like the trash trucks parking overnight, then let’s investigate parking them outside the city. They will still, however, need to stop right in front of your house twice a week to pick up garbage. The real cost here is in rebuilding the vehicle maintenance facility. I don’t see how that makes sense financially, and the City has done zero analysis of that issue.

    As to your point about the youth center, you are simply mistaken. The pastor of WUBC explained at the public information meeting that the facility will be for the exclusive use of the members of West U Baptist Church. He stated that they would not open it to public use or participation like they do for their Upward basketball program. He explained that the facility is for Sunday school/bible study, not public teen programming. So the City is not getting a youth center for free.

  12. Brennan Reilly Says:

    The title refers to the City negotiating with West U Baptist Church, but the better term title would be “City Bends Over Backwards for Church.” Here are some important facts uncovered from the City’s response to my Public Information Act request. This is long, but very worthwhile, and just the tip of the iceberg showing the City’s extreme efforts to complete a transaction that does not make financial sense for the City. I’ll try to post pdfs of the various emails and documents at the stopsuperblock.org website.

    • As the applicant on the ZBA application, the church is supposed to provide a parking/traffic study with its application. No time? No funds? No problem! The City will do it for you on the double. The City hires the traffic engineer for $15,000. City staff and resources are used to lay out the traffic counters. The engineers then present the draft report to the church today for its use at the ZBA hearing this Thursday.

    • The City prepares an “information brochure” to sell the land swap to the public at a cost of over $8,000. Former mayors and council members ask to be part of the survey and brochure development, but are rejected. Who gets to review and provide comments in advance of distribution to West U citizens? The church! Here are the comments of Pastor Patterson to the “final draft” provided to him in advance of distribution to the public.

    * * *

    Michael,

    Thank you for sending me a copy of this before sending it out to the public. There is a lot more information about the church in here than I anticipated. I feel you all ought to be leading with pictures of what the city will be developing in the future because you all are leading with vision, vs. reacting to how the church is about to build. The church should be a secondary issue here versus the lead. As a result, I would ask that you make a few changes to your publication so that we are not cast in a negative light.

    1. Please remove the language that states that the church is under pressure. This puts a generous donor with a big heart for teens in a negative light. I have asked that all references to the donor, the gift, or how the church goes about funding something not be discussed by the city any longer. Please, before this is printed, remove this.

    2. Additionally, the line that states that the church will extend rent free use to the city for the life cycle of the building on Amherst is not accurate. We are agreeing to 10 years, expect fully to get a credit on the value of a 10 year lease, and if we go beyond 10 years, there will be expenses incurred by the city associated with a lease back. We don’t anticipate extending beyond the 10 years, but have left flexibility for both parties in our response to your RFP. What is currently being published is not an accurate description, especially since your first request was for up to 20 years. The sentence reads this way, “The Amherst property where the public works administration building is currently located will be leased back to the city by the church at no cost for the remainder of its life expectancy.” It should state, “ten years,” not “life expectancy.”

    3. Lastly, the language about the church being scattered throughout town center only feeds the idea that we are all over the place and are trying to gobble up more. I think ending the sentence by deleting, “rather than being scattered throughout towncenter,” Should make your point and not paint us in a negative light.
    Please make these changes before sending out to the public.

    Michael, I need you to know that I have some on my team who really are concerned about the way this is playing out and we don’t know that we can sell the congregation on it. Not having a clear path forward for the clear assurance that we can develop the North Side of Amherst after the ten year lease back makes us very concerned. We see the landscape shifting with the possibilities of a new city council that is anti-church and will try to seat us with an ordinance that keeps us from developing anything in the future. Again, we are becoming the target because we chose to wait and see what the city brought forth, striving to be a good neighbor and see if there was a possibility to work together.

    At the least, I would appreciate it if you all added some language that states that we work together on a daily basis and the church has always been a good neighbor for the city to provide its services. We try to communicate great things about the city management to our congregation. We hosted and honored our police and fire departments in our worship services last summer, and are only a phone call away for you and your team. I have felt the same from you and your staff, but when this is going out to every home, you all have an opportunity to speak about our relationship in a positive light.

    Thank you for hearing my concerns about this publication.

    * * *

    • Does the City Manger reply “Thank you but that was the final draft approved by City Council?” No, of course not. He throws the elected City Council members (who made extensive edits to the brochure) under the bus by replying “As you might imagine writing by committee is challenging on our end” and “Thanks Roger. That’s why I wanted to share it with you before sending out. I’ll see what I can do in the morning.” Of course, the final draft is held up and revised to incorporate the church’s comments.

    • As part of its ZBA application, West U Baptist Church must hold a public briefing regarding its plans. The briefing was professional and informative. Of course it was, because the City Manager coached the church on just what to say, instructed City staff to call the church for further coaching, and advised that he, the City Manager, was “available at your disposal.” Here is the text of the City’s Manager’s email:

    * * *

    Hello Roger,

    I’m sure you have everything covered for tonight but I just wanted to provide a few points you might want to consider for the presentation at tonight’s meeting:

    • Describe the proposed structure, the optional locations and the inevitability of it being built at one of the two locations.
    • Describe the ongoing application documents and the application process for the building
    • Address the anticipated traffic impacts and any proposed mitigation.
    • Address the anticipated parking impacts and any proposed mitigation.
    • Discuss the proposed orientation of the building and access points for both locations.
    • Discuss the general proposed landscaping (screening and buffering) for building if known.
    • Solicit suggestions from persons at the meeting regarding the proposed youth ministry building locations.
    • Keep detailed written minutes showing the names and addresses of all persons notified, all attendees and a synopsis of the matters discussed.

    Chris Peifer [Asst. City Manger]will be the City representative for us as the owner. Debbie Scarcella will be the City staff representative for the process and procedure of the ZBA approval.

    Depending on who attends, it may be important to remind everyone that this meeting is to discuss the two possible locations of a youth ministry building. It is not a meeting to address any of the other activities going on by the city or the city and church negotiations. You may have some that want to go down that path but you do not have to discuss that at all.

    Chris will be calling you to discuss in more detail and I am available at your disposal. Chris/Alan [City Attorney], please let us know if I am forgetting anything.

    * * *

    • The City receives a Public Information Act request for documents relating to the land swap. Who does the City Manager send the request to so that they know to no longer communicate by email? The church! Dick Yehle, City Council member writes to the City Manager that communications with the church should NOT be disclosed under the Texas Public Information Act without regard to whether an exception from disclosure applies!!! He writes, “Council and Staff should be reminded of Roger’s [Public Information Act Insertion] assertion. Whether it is valid of not, the communication on this issue should be viewed as part of the negotiations and kept confidential.” Wow! A City Council member urging the City to violate the law by not disclosing documents whether the asserted privilege is valid or not. Fortunately the City Secretary understands disclosure obligations under the law and provided all of these communications.

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