Zoning Board Approves Church Request for Youth Center After Marathon Meeting

March 27, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

After a 6 ½ hour meeting that started Thursday evening, the West University Place Zoning Board of Adjustment gave preliminary approval early Friday to West University Baptist Church’s request to build a new Youth Center at 3826 Milton.

The church — along with its co-applicant the city of West University Place — was seeking a “special exception” to the zoning ordinance to build a new 7,000-square foot youth ministry building on land that currently houses the city’s Public Works Maintenance facility.

The church and the city are involved in real estate negotiations that involve the possible “swap” of land that would allow the city to proceed with a long-range Master Plan for Municipal Facilities.

After lengthy testimony about a traffic and parking study, the ZBA approved the church and city request for permission to allow the construction of the Youth Center on Milton. The West U City Council earlier this week approved an engineering and design contract for a new Public Works Facility that would be located on city property on Dincans St.

After the meeting, West U Baptist Church Senior Pastor Robert Patterson said that the real estate negotiations are still going on.

“The deal is not done,” Patterson said.

But the ZBA’s preliminary approval of the construction of the Youth Center on Milton clears the way for the city of West U to proceed with its plan for future municipal facilities to be located between University Blvd. and Auden, College and Amherst.

Due to the length of the meeting, the board delayed action on a second request for a special exception from the church to build parking facilities in the 3800 block of Amherst. The board will take up that request at its next meeting on April 23.

The city’s long-range plan for a municipal campus, and the church’s request to build a Youth Center that would eventually house 200 middle- and high-school students ignited a firestorm of controversy in usually tranquil West U.

A number of residents opposed the new Youth Center on the grounds that it will not be compatible with the largely residential neighborhood and that it will increase traffic congestion and lead to clogged streets from on-street parking.

Proponents of the Youth Center said it will benefit young people in the community, and could not be stopped because of state and federal laws that protect the rights of religious institutions to build in residential neighborhoods.

Board members and Brennan Reilly, a West U city council candidate who has been an outspoken opponent of the Youth Center, spent several hours questioning traffic engineer Dan Lynch, who conducted a one-week traffic study of streets in the area of the proposed center.

“The bottom line is, we just don’t feel there’s a significant traffic impact,” Lynch said. “I just don’t believe there will be any significant change in the traffic conditions, based on what they are planning. I just don’t see it.”

Lynch also said his study did not foresee any “significant” impact on on-street parking. He noted that the church is seeking a special exception to build additional parking on Amherst.

But Reilly, representing West U resident David Kuykendahl, questioned the validity of Lynch’s analysis. He noted that Lynch’s study was based on the assumption that the 75 youths who now participate in the church’s Youth Ministry would increase by about 1 percent annually.

Reilly asked Lynch how many additional vehicles would be added to the streets when the Youth Center has 200 participants.

“I cannot tell you,” Lynch said. But, Lynch said that many of the young people would not be driving to the center, while others were likely to be carpooling.

Reilly insisted that Lynch’s study was flawed, and failed to provide “any evidence, much less substantial evidence” that there would not be a significant impact on traffic and on-street parking.

Other opponents of the Youth Center also warned the ZBA that the construction of a new youth facility would only exacerbate traffic problems on Milton Street, especially in and around the “toddler park” at Huffington Park.

West U resident David Dutch said, “I don’t think the parking study did a very good job with helping me understand how there’s not going to be a lot more traffic congestion. Nothing was said tonight that makes me think there’s not going to be a lot more traffic.”

Stan McCandless, a former West U city council member, also said he doubted the traffic study.

“This place is going to be a madhouse,” McCandless said.

Their comments about the parking study were echoed by West U residents Zona Ward, Katherine Sweeney and Michelle Moore.

The church’s request was supported by a handful of church members, including one teen who participates in the church’s youth ministry.

David Jenkins said that replacing the public works maintenance facility with a youth center will improve the neighborhood and the community.

“We love this church, and we want to be good neighbors. I believe this facility will help this community raise the next generation,” he said.

Kuykendahl said the traffic study underestimated the impact on traffic and one-street parking. He said the new youth center would become “a community nightmare when it comes to traffic and parking.”

“You should deny this request for a special exception,” he added.

Although the ZBA members had several questions during a lengthy discussion about traffic and parking, they unanimously approved the special exemption for the church, on a preliminary basis. The board decided they should add some special “conditions” to make sure the church youth facility was used primarily for that purpose, as well as some other provisions — be to decided later — to insure that the privacy of nearby residences is protected.

ZBA Chair Samantha Brantley’s motion to grant the special exemption included conditions that the church insure second-floor privacy, fencing “and any other that we probably will come up with at the next meeting.”



9 Responses to “Zoning Board Approves Church Request for Youth Center After Marathon Meeting”

  1. anticommercialstructuresinresidentialzonedareas Says:

    In my experience with these kind of places, it’s not the day to day normal traffic that is the issue, it is the special events where all the kids parents and grandparents come to some performance or the like that cause a traffic and parking nightmare.

    I still have yet to hear a coherent rationale for why the city needs a superblock. Is our population doubling in the next 40 years so the need to provide municipal services is going to double? Does every city council person need an extra large office thus requiring a new office building and hence the land? What is the potential need for all that land (taken off the tax rolls forever and thus implicitly an increase in taxes in perpetuity on all of us- unless it’s currently WUBC owned land on that block in which case it’s already off the tax rolls forever!)

    • Lucille Gallman Says:

      There must be a city ordinance or could be one that can control the noise etc. in a residential neighborhood. I do recall a West U Ordinance about activities of a business nature that can keep a homeowner from enjoying his property. I don’t think it even has to be a business. For instance, the West U Dog Ordinance. I was told by the City of West U when I had a dog, that even if my dog was barking in the house, if it bothered my neighbor then I would be breaking the West U Dog Ordinance. These two ordinances that I experienced firsthand have been on the books for many years.

    • Lucille Gallman Says:

      You can read the City Ordinances of West University Place by going to the website and clicking “Quick Links” in the upper right corner and selecting City Ordinances.

  2. Says:

    With six lawyers representing the Church at the Zoning Board Meeting, and four the City is obviously paying, the opponents apparently are fighting a losing battle. The survey was a joke and we all knew how it would be used.
    Hopefully, a new city council will bring some sunshine into this dark place.

  3. Quality of Life Says:

    Okay, let’s do a little math. How many years will it take to fill up the Youth Center? According to the article, the Church says they have a 1% growth rate and 75 current attendees. The proposed building will hold 200. According to these numbers, it will take 99 years to fill up the Youth Center. Hence, no traffic or parking problems. But what if instead of a 1% growth rate, growth is more rapid. Say it does not take 99 years to fill up the Youth Center. What is the impact on traffic and parking? It appears no one knows. How did this get approved? Wave goodbye to the Neighborhood City.

  4. College Resident Says:

    Did anybody ever have any doubts that this would be approved?
    What a show…
    All those working behind the scene on this matter should walk the Red Carpet and get an Oscar.

  5. david Says:

    yes Dave, as always I will be graceful. I still find it odd That for all my efforts to understand if traffic will be worse at my house (next to the Youth center) I still do not have a good answer. As your favorite author Kurt Vonnegut would say: ” and so it goes”……

  6. Lucille Gallman Says:

    When I was a teen in West University Place, the churches didn’t have dedicated buildings for us. I remember some activities at the West University Methodist Church and met my husband at the MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) which met every Sunday evening at Bellaire Methodist Church in the Fellowship Hall or in the homes of members. Someone at the meeting said that traffic wouldn’t be a problem because of carpooling. We were kids of the 1950s and even way back then rarely carpooled anywhere. I think noise will be a problem. The teens of 2015 like loud stuff. I recently attended a wedding in a Memorial area Methodist Church. The staff stopped what sounded to me like a rock concert, with drums, before the wedding. The statement “it will benefit young people in the community” may need a definition of what “the community” means. It would probably be wise if the city (and church) requires that the facility opens and closes at specified times. I am sure that neither, considering liability, would agree to a meeting place being accessible twenty-four hours especially without proper supervision of kids.

  7. Dave Agerton Says:

    An impressive meeting, not just for its length, but for the diligence, care and patience the ZBA, the applicant team and the opposition displayed. I hope the opponents can accept the ZBA’s decision gracefully and move on. The ZBA was careful in their approach to technical, legal and human aspects of the matter. The applicant was as competent as opponents were passionate. Details of the traffic and parking study by a seasoned Professional Engineer (PE) were questioned at length as was the review by a 3rd party PE. An Architect testified about details of the design and compatibility with the site and surrounding area. A property valuation expert testified on the positive impact the youth center would likely have on surrounding values if a youth center replaces a truck maintenance facility.

    The proposed development of a municipal campus recalls the vision to expand Colonial Park into a super block 25 years ago. Back then, original homes occupied 9 lots on the east end of the block. As a member of the Parks Board, I wrote to and met with each home owner to hear their thoughts and to express the hope that when they were ready to sell their property, the City could buy it to expand the park. With so many builders looking for lots, the time to act was limited. Meanwhile, an Architect drafted a master plan for parks. It took years and the efforts of many people for the City to acquire all of the private property in the Colonial Park block and implement the development plan.

    Given what’s at Colonial Park today, most people applaud the foresight, professionalism and care that City officials and boards exercised 25 years ago. The process today is similar, though more controversial. We’ve read about the vision for the church youth center and for the City municipal campus. We’ve listened to or read arguments for and against each. To me, both plans make very good sense and offer significant benefits to our community. Over time, the Parks Board has received many suggestions from residents for a teen center. Now we have a response to this long-standing need.

    I applaud the City officials and board members who are looking ahead and pursuing opportunities to further improve West U. At the outset of this process, officials were a step ahead of us, but they fixed that problem. So, here is my request to officials and boards: Some say the plans are ambitious, but now the signs are auspicious. We need to quickly proceed. Let’s act with all speed. Please make your decisions expeditious.

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