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WU Council to Consider Land Swap, Master Plan, Debt

May 1, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

Despite questions over financing, the West University Place City Council on Monday will consider a vote on the 2015 Long-Range Facility Master plan, a land swap with the West University Baptist Church, as well as a vote to authorize the issuance of $3 million in certificates of obligation.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in executive session, to discuss the real estate negotiations with the church. They will then meet in regular session, at 6:30 p.m., in the council chambers in the Municipal Building at 3800 University Blvd.

The council initially approved a different version of the Master Plan in mid-October, 2014, igniting a political firestorm, causing a slate of candidates — including two former mayors — to run for city council in the upcoming May 9 election and triggering a petition drive to stop financing for a part of the plan.

The first item on the council’s agenda is consideration of the issuance of $3,050,000 in certificates of obligation.  The staff recommendation, however, notes that the $3 million in debt would be “contingent upon the validity of a submitted petition.”

A group of 28 West U residents submitted the petition, signed by 946 people, to the City Secretary on Thursday morning. The petition seeks to stop the council from issuing the $3,050,000 in certificates of obligation.

If the signatures are certified —  the signers must be residents of West U and registered voters — then the city council cannot proceed with the sale of the certificates of obligation.

City Manager Michael Ross said the city has until May 14, 2015, to certify that the petition is valid.

Brennan Reilly, a council candidate and participant in the petition drive, said the effort to get signatures was easier than he had expected. “People were upset that the city is trying to cram this through at the last minute,” Reilly said.

The council’s next item for consideration is consideration of the 2015 City Facilities Master Plan. Architect Jeff Gerber will make a presentation to the council.

An agenda memo explains the history of the city’s master plan, and notes that the current proposal is “ a scaled back exchange which only includes a swap of approximately 22,800 square feet from each entity and the construction of a new shared use parking lot on Amherst connected to the existing City parking lot. “

”The properties being proposed for the exchange are the following:

  • City – Three lots that make Public Works Maintenance Facility property (16,691 SF) and a small portion of the city owned property on Amherst between the Public Works Administration Building and the WUBC gymnasium (6,109 SF).
  • WUBC – Four lots along Amherst between the City Hall parking lot and 3833 Amherst residential property (22,800 SF). “

And, the memo states: “The impacted residential property owners that have communicated with the City that are located within the proposed municipal block have indicated their support for this property exchange agreement.”

The agenda memo also includes details about the city’s efforts to resolve controversy over the so-called “Super Block,”

Since the plan was initially approved on October 13, 2014, the memo notes: “The city has had numerous public meetings, including two specific Town Hall meetings, to gather public input on this Facility Master Plan and the possible property exchanges with the WUBC. Additionally the city sought legal counsel from a highly respected attorney specializing in the freedom of religion laws to ensure they were on the right path. Next, the City hired Dr. Richard Murray with the Hobby Center for Public Policy’s Survey Institute to perform a randomized survey of residents to determine support for the council’s proposal. The survey indicated support for City Council’s actions.”

The petition asks that the city allow the public to vote on whether to go into $3 million in debt to finance the move of the Public Works facility.

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