Council to Hold Special Meeting on Church Land Deal

May 11, 2015 By:Anne Marie Kilday

Local News

Despite an election victory by opponents, the West U City Council will hold a special meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to consider a land deal with West University Baptist Church.

Notice of the special meeting was posted shortly before 5 p.m. Monday on the city’s website.

The only item on the agenda is:  “Real Estate Agreement with the West University Baptist Church. Matters related to the value or transfer of real property and other real estate matters with the West University Baptist Church and other properties in the 3800 blocks of University and Amherst. Recommended Action: Discuss and take any desired action.”

The city and the church have been involved in real estate negotiations over a possible land deal that would provide church-owned property for the city to build a Super Block of Municipal Facilities, and city-owned property for the church to build a new Youth Center.

West U Mayor Bob Fry said he believes the council should continue with the land swap, despite the election results.

“It’s the best thing for the city to do in the long term,” Fry said Monday. “The opposition candidates ran a very effective campaign and got their voters out. When they are in office, they can run the city as they see fit. In the meantime, we still are in office, and we still have to do the right thing for 15,000 residents of West U. We are continuing the process, and we’ll see where it takes us,” Fry said.

“We are bringing up the same issues that we tabled at the last council meeting,” Fry said.

Brennan Reilly, a key opponent of the Super Block, said: “It would certainly appear that we were all hoodwinked at the last council meeting.”

Reilly and three other council candidates, including former West U Mayors Bob Kelly and Burt Ballanfant and Mardi Turner — were on swept into office in Saturday’s municipal election by strong opposition to the land swap. They will take office in early June.

They had campaigned against the Super Block and collected signatures on a petition to force a public vote on financing a part of the land swap.

Opponents of the Super Block, the land deal with West U Baptist and the $3 million in new city debt to finance a part of the deal had praised the council’s decisions on May 4 to table action on those proposals.

Fry said the real estate negotiations to be considered Thursday includes a swap of city-owned land at 3826 Milton St. for church-owned property on Amherst St. The Milton property currently houses the city’s Public Works Maintenance Facility, which would be moved to the city’s former RecyclExpress property located on Dincans St. near Westpark.

Although the city had planned to issue $3 million in certificates of obligation to finance that move, opponents collected 946 signatures on a petition to force a public vote on the additional city debt.

Fry said the agenda “does” include the Milton St. property. Asked how the city could finance the cost of moving the Public Works maintenance facility, Fry said: “It will have to go to a vote of the voters at the next election, which will be in November.”

The opposition slate was particularly perplexed by the notice of the council’s special meeting, since the West U Baptist Church has filed a request for “an exception or modification” from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to build its new Youth Center on its own property located at 3821 and 3831 Amherst.

City staff received that request on Thursday, May 7, according to documents filed with the city.

In its application, the church states that the new Youth Ministry building will be “visually compatible with existing residential structures” and the new building’s “footprint” would be very close to the two residential properties now located there.

The council may meet in closed executive session, for the purpose of meeting with attorney Reid Wilson, who has been working on the real estate negotiations for the city, to get legal advice or to discuss the value or transfer of real estate.

Kelly said Monday that the slate opposed to the Super Block was studying the agenda.

“We’re puzzled,” Kelly said. “It sounds like they are going to approve the land swap. That would be very alarming to a lot of people.

“When I first heard about this, I thought that between the election and the petition, they (the current council) would just close up shop and go home,” Kelly said.

Turner said, “I am simply mystified as to what they are going to do.”

Reilly, who spearheaded the petition drive to force a public vote on financing the $3 million in new city debt, said, “I would be very surprised if they go through with this. They really are putting a finger in the eye of the voters.”

Any action or vote on the issue must take place in an open, public meeting, under Texas’ Open Meetings law. The agenda for the meeting does not include a time for public comments.



21 Responses to “Council to Hold Special Meeting on Church Land Deal”

  1. Disgusted Says:

    The recent election in West U was a referendum on the lack of transparency and, quite frankly decency, exercised by the outgoing Council with regard to their dealings with WUBC over the ‘Land Swap’. It was also, however, a clear indictment of the Baptist Church’s intention to build its Youth Center ANYWHERE within the already congested West U city center. If the pastor truly believes that the voters have spoken, he should listen very closely. Those who voted not only opposed the quietly negotiated “Land Swap” but also his very own grand plans for the expansion of his ministry. To paraphrase his own words, if the question is “can they” build a youth center in the crowded center of West U the answer may very well be yes. If the question is SHOULD the Baptist church do so, the answer given by the community clearly is NO.

  2. Reading Now Says:

    Why would any elected official back down
    from doing what they said they would do?
    “In recounting and experiencing our own histories
    we will not only be at home with ourselves
    but will invite others in as well. Bubbles, after all, only float
    supported by the surrounding air, with a balance of pressure
    between inner and outer. Take the environment away and
    there are no bubbles at all. Our human world is the world of others – ”
    Broken Father’s Broken Sons
    Gerald J. Gargiulo

  3. Lucille Gallman Says:

    “West U Mayor Bob Fry said he believes the council should continue with the land swap, despite the election results.”
    It appears that this type of behavior by an outgoing governing body is ethical since it seems to be permitted when the presidents of our great country leave office. I can’t find any guidelines concerning decisions made by elected officials in the last hours of their term of office on the Texas Municipal League website. Voting informs elected officials what the people who put them in office expect them to do and doesn’t give them the authority to give preferential treatment to anyone or anything else. I wonder how elected officials who consider themselves above the people explain their civics lesson to their kids.

    • antieyesore Says:

      Easy to explain. We vote for people to serve a specific term. That term does not end when a new election is held. Why would any elected official back down from doing what they said they would do?

      What do you not understand about this?

  4. Gobsmacked Says:

    Through this action, the mayor is demonstrating his contempt for the very people he is supposed to represent. This matter should be left to the new council.

  5. Jennifer McKerrow Says:

    The decision is really simple now. There will be no more opportunity for study after June 1 and the opposition and slate knows it. Either the deal will be done now and the youth center will get built on Milton or the deal does not get done now and the youth center will get built on Amherst. Those that think it does not get built at all are delusional and are lying to themselves and everyone else.

  6. West U Resident Says:

    There is no “plan” only a “vision”. Two very different things.

  7. Linda Driskill Says:

    The petition that was delivered was not a vote and cannot be considered a public referendum on the proposed plan. The survey results did not suggest a high level of opposition to the land swap: over 49% of the respondents approved; only 35% opposed. While the petition will require a public vote, the petition itself does not constitute the will of a majority of the residents. The outrage in the comments seems illogical and excessive. To me, this seems like a thoughtful plan.

  8. Nitin Tandon Says:

    Lets begin to explore options for investigation of the current city council and the mayor by the justice department. This whole thing smacks of corruption and nepotism and should be subjected to judicial inquiry. And of course, leaving office does not prevent investigation for criminal actions while in office.

    • antieyesore Says:

      Sounds like you are suffering from scorched scalp. Like most zealots, you set your hair on fire over trivial matters. Calm down. We live in a great city and our friends and neighbors are to be trusted.

  9. Lucille Gallman Says:

    I’m a simple type and don’t quite understand the departing Council’s strategy. It appears that if a vote on financing $3 million in new city debt is forced, it won’t take place until long after they leave office. Therefore, there will be many more months of discussion on this matter and neglecting other issues that will affect the quality of life for the youngest residents and the value of property. It is not only disappointing but is disturbing.

    • westumom Says:

      Lucille, I think he plans to trade away the maintenance facility now and then say, “King’s X, you have to vote for the bonds in November to build a new one or go without.” This is why in his “emergency” phone messages (which used city assets to further his agenda) he said that this vote was going to determine whether the residents of West U will continue to receive the level of services they have become accustomed to.

  10. antieyesore Says:

    The Tea party elected Ted Cruz and we Texans are stuck with this embarrassment. Cruz used the special election so that a very few Texans voted and those that did were the crazies who support Cruz.

    West U has the Eyesore party. These are the folks who argue that a dump truck facility in the middle of a neighborhood is charming. They are motivated and rallied their eyesore lovers to vote in an election where fewer than 10% of us voted. Hardly a mandate.The voters have not spoken. They didn’t care.

    Most West U residents who bothered to take an interest in the land swap think it is a reasonable idea. Bob Fry is to be commended for seeing this deal through.

    The comments by the Eyesore party that are most repugnant are those that insulted our current elected officials. One even said that West U is more corrupt than Saudi Arabia. Bob Fry and his council are our neighbors and friends. I disagreed with some of their positions but never in a thousand years would I use the language used by the “slate” that was elected to defame our friends.

    Bob Kelly knows better. He could not control his dark side and lied and misspoke about his participation in the master plan that produced the land swap.

    Fortunately, we have Susan Sample as mayor. She will hold the Eyesore Party to their claim to be transparent. She should start with Kelly’s receipt of money from The Goode Company. It is not a coincidence that our great restaurant neighbors wanted to keep their parking deal with West U, so they got what they paid for – Kelly’s vote.

  11. LindaL Says:

    The current council has every right to move forward as it sees fit. The idea of the land swap and moving public works to city owned property on Dincans makes long term sense, and though it represents change, it has benefit. Unfortunately, many of us do not think forward about what may be best for future decision makers and residents. The recent election became all too political, possibly without voters totally understanding the whole picture.

    • Michelle Moore Says:

      LindaL: It is precisely because we are thinking forward about what may be best for future decision makers and residents that we wish to stop this deal and explore all our options before making a commitment. One option that has not been explored is to sell the Dincans property and use the proceeds to finance renovation of the current Maintenance facility. This would probably save the taxpayers money, yet this council disregarded any solutions except their own.

  12. Karl Caillouet Says:

    Is this what it appears to be?

    An egregious, spiteful action, that is a total disregard for the voice of the people who spoke last week at the polls in opposition to this very issue?

    Let’s hope a sense of honesty and decency prevails. If not, the shameless quack of the lamest of lame ducks will be remembered for a decided lack of both.

  13. TKoehler Says:

    Mayor Fry, I am very disturbed by your self-absorbed “Father Knows Best” attitude. What will it take for you to listen to the people of our city?

  14. Michelle Moore Says:

    It takes two to make a deal. By filing to construct the youth center on their own property, it appears the church has acknowledged and respects that West U voters do not wish to sell, swap or otherwise divest the current city real estate holdings before a vote. I hope that the church continues its good neighbor policy by conducting any further negotiations with the next council and refusing any offer made by the current council. Mayor Fry, please complete your term in a responsible manner and respect the will of the voters on this matter.

    • Jennifer McKerrow Says:

      Thank you Ms. NIMBY

    • Disgusted Says:

      TOTALLY AGREE, Michelle! This about the current lame duck Mayor’s and certain Councilmembers’ ego, ambition and likely backroom promises. They are IGNORING THE VOTERS who played by our simple rules of Democracy! Shameful and embarrassing.

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