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Council Tables Master Plan, Church Deal, Debt

May 4, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

Updated 5.5.2015 7:18am

Dozens of opponents of the city of West U’s long-range Master Plan for Municipal Facilities were surprised and delighted Monday night, when the West U City Council tabled consideration of a 2015 Master Plan, a land swap with West U Baptist Church, and the issuance of $3 million in debt to finance a part of the plan.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample made the motions to table the controversial issues just five days before the city election that will be held Saturday. Sample is running unopposed in her bid to serve as the next mayor of West U.

A slate of four candidates — Brennan Reilly, former Mayors Bob Kelly and Burt Ballanfant, and Mardi Turner — who opposed the so-called “Super Block” wound up congratulating the council.

Independent candidate Steven Segal also praised the council’s decision.

The three votes were unanimous, with Councilman Ed Heathcott, a deacon at the church, recusing himself.

Councilmember Dick Yehle joked he had been the recipient of “one or two emails” in the last few days from dozens of West U residents who were among the 946 signers of a petition to block the council from issuing $3,050,000 in certificates of obligation to finance moving the Public Works maintenance facility to city-owned property on Dincans St.

The petition, which was submitted to the city last week, has not yet been verified.

West U Mayor Bob Fry defended the council’s actions to update a 2006 Master Plan, which began in early 2014.

“We instructed staff to start making plans in January of 2014. We knew we had facilities that were beyond their useful life. But everything in this plan came up in prior councils,” Fry said.

The mayor also defended the council’s decision to enter into real estate negotiations for a “land swap” with West U Baptist Church, which wants to build a new Youth Center near its campus. The city and the church are still involved in real estate negotiations involving a potential “land swap” of church-owned property on Amherst and the city’s Public Works maintenance facilities on Milton.

That would free up property for the so-called “Super Block” for a municipal campus bordered by University, Auden, College and Amherst.

“There’s been a lot of vilification of the church in all of this, and they do not deserve it,” Fry said. “The vilification has been just plain wrong, and I’m sorry for it.”

Reilly said that he agreed with Fry about the criticism of the church. But, Reilly said the real issue was one of “transparency.”

Reilly said that he had recently received a telephone call from another West U resident, who suggested that Reilly try to compromise on the Super Block issue.

“There are things going on behind the scenes,” Reilly said. “There shouldn’t be an intermediary who reaches out to me to see if I will accept a compromise.”

Ballanfant said, “I appreciate the restraint the council has shown tonight.”

Kelly thanked the council for their action, but he continued to criticized their October, 2014 decision to approve a long-range plan.

“What you did was implement” a plan, Kelly said. “Before implementation, you should find out if the support is there.”

He added: “I do thank you for your service. I know it’s a tough job.”

Turner simply thanked the council for tabling action on all three issues.

“I think it was very wise of you to postpone voting on all of these items,” Turner said.

Segal said, “I’ve tabled my response because I got what I expected this council to do.”

West U resident Michelle Moore thanked the council, but urged them not to proceed with the long-range plan before the next council takes office in about a month.

“I hope this means you rrecognize the groundswell of opposition,” Moore said. She urged the council “not to consummate” a deal with West U Baptist Church before they leave office.

“Please leave these transactions for the next council,” Moore said.

7 Responses to “Council Tables Master Plan, Church Deal, Debt”

  1. Bruce Beneke Says:

    Let me first state that I am 100% in favor of West U students attending West U Elementary, if so desired. (My understanding is that not all students zoned to WUES live in West U.) West U families should have 1st priority into WUES and not have to separate their kids between two schools. I was and am concerned about traffic safety at WUES as well as West U Baptist’s proposed Youth Ministry facility on Milton. Both locations have been researched by experts and they agree that traffic safety standards are being/will be met.

  2. Concerned Citizen Says:

    I fully understand the basis of your comments, College Resident. What I don’t understand is why you feel the need to bring this kind of baggage to provincial issues in a small community.

  3. Concerned Citizen Says:

    I think that College Resident has provided the perfect illustration of a problematic sentiment going around WestU.

    He writes about WUBC as if it is part of some secret scheming world-wide organization that is trying to impose a centuries old domination over our little town. And if a member of WUBC endorses Ms. Sample, something has got to be wrong with her!

    Really?

    West University Baptist Church is not some disinterested organization. The members of WUBC are your neighbors. It is a great neighborhood church, full of gracious people and alive with the spirit of God.

    I grew up in a similar small church in Bellaire. I knew most everyone there and many knew me since I was a baby. Being part of the youth group had such a positive impact on me. That’s what I want for my kids. I support the building of a youth center. If that gathering of youth can help protect even a few of our neighborhood kids from heading down any number of destructive paths, then it will have served its purpose.

    I don’t feel the need to support the whole plan, just because I support the youth center. But, the fight against the Super Block has resulted in a fight against the youth center, because its comes up first.

    Many people I’ve talked with about the candidate choices are sensing an anti-church undertone in all this. I don’t know if individual candidates are anti-church, but based on some their positions and comments, it feels that way. Their agenda has been taken to an extreme. To residents who are members of WUBC, it feels like a personal attack.

    I don’t like to vote for candidates based on a single issue. This is only one of many complex issues that city council will have to resolve. Not every issue is black or white, either or, win or lose. I wish you all could have heard the ZBA deliberations on this issue. They talked it through for long hours and came up with a compromise solution that made good sense. I urge you to vote for candidates that understand these kinds of nuances in their decision making. I just don’t see it in the block candidates.

    • anticommercialstructuresinresidentialzonedareas Says:

      To me it is more about property rights and the limitless potential for expansion given that the church can ignore single family residential zoning restrictions. Every further lot that they acquire is an increase in taxes on the rest of us. I’m not in favor of expanding the City’s municipal footprint either via a superblock (for which they have never stated a concrete reason why they need all that land).

      Beneke’s postion irritates as well – he is alright with the increased traffic generated by the WUBC youth center (from lots of non city residents), but thinks it would be beneficial if city residents had to send their kids to elementary schools outside of West U. Completely backwards focus for someone wanting to be representing the citizens of West U on council.

      • College Resident Says:

        Churches have been scheming and maneuvering socially and politically since Constantine at every social and political level, and at some times more than others. A single individuals provincial experience in a small community does not negate the reality of the situation.
        I suggest Mr. Concern Citizen, that you broaden your horizons a little bit outside of Bellaire and West University to understand the basis of my comments.

  4. College Resident Says:

    It would be a good idea for Mr Fry to study a bit of social history in this country and the rest of the World. He will find that it is always churches that vilify the work of those that oppose their doings and not the other way around. It was the same in this case.

    The question of religion had never been brought up in any of the postings on this site, but it was an apparent member or supporter of WUBC who first called an “anti-church” one of your readers that opposed WUBC’s plans.

    Churches enjoy far more freedom and protection under the Law than possibly any other organization and to top it all, they pay no taxes. And yet, when they are attacked or when their motives are questioned they play the victim card.

    It is no secret to students and scholars of social and political history that churches – regardless of denomination – have always operated as cabals, placing member in positions of influence and/or power to achieve their goals. Again, no different in this case.

    Since Mr. Heathcot, an active leader within WUBC endorsed Ms. Sample (our new unopposed candidate for Mayor), it would be wise for the citizens of West University to follow closely the activities of Ms. Sample and the next city council and to watch for what WUBC could possibly be expecting in return.

    As for Mr. Fry, our outgoing Mayor I will quote a statement from a far wiser man than him that lived twenty-five hundred years ago:

    “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.”
    ― Socrates

  5. The Talented Mr Reilly Says:

    Like the chilling Matt Damon thriller of the 90’s, candidate Reilly is a dangerous contradiction

    His most rabid supporters are yellow dog West u Democrats. True Reilly is a Democratic primary voter but also gave Mitt Romney $500.

    He wants to serve us on council, but is actively recruiting clients to sue the council and taxpayers over a very thorough, thoughtful decision of the ZBA that is composed of civic-minded volunteers. The decision favored the church but he personally dislikes it.

    He’s smart and well educated (UT Law) Unfortunately, his personality prevents him from working in an actual law firm or corporation but instead supports his large family by working from home.

    Appeasing his nutty and most rapid core anti church supporters, often indistinguishable from himself, Reilly has devolved into a level of church bigotry reminiscent of another era, if not another country He coined the unheard of dangerous threat to use Imminent Domain against a church. He falsely accused the church of wanting to steal a library from children. He’s repeatedly said that the city can legally stop the church from developing their own land on Amherst and University. He denies that the city consulted legal experts on that issue, He’s misrepresented almost every aspect of the land swap in an effort to gain support and now signatures. This includes that the city is giving the church land and/or doing all of this at the request of the church, or that the city is selling the church land and that the entire bond is welfare for the church in the form of clearing the dilapidated (another Reilly inaccuracy) Milton lots.

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