George Boehme: My Opinion

May 14, 2015 By:George Boehme

Local News

West University Baptist Church has done the right thing by bowing out of a struggle with city officials over where the church will build a youth center.

West U city council was scheduled to make a final decision tonight on a proposed land swap with the church, which would have allowed to church to build a youth center on the corner of Milton and College.

The church has told the city council, thanks but no thanks. We’ll build the center on three lots we already own in the middle of the 3800 block of Amherst.

We applaud the church for doing the right thing – ending this nasty political debate.

There is no question the church has the right to build a youth center on any land it owns, regardless of local zone regulations. This is because West U, by ordinance, has said that churches are considered primary uses in residentially zoned areas in West U.

This change in law was made by a prior city council about a decade ago. Add federal and state religious protection laws to the mix, and churches have almost unlimited legal rights to build pretty much any structure they want.

Yes, the church applied for various rulings before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, but that was more a polite gesture than anything else. You must exhaust your “administrative remedies” in order to have standing in a Texas District Court. If the ZBA denies a church a request to build something, a Texas District Court will likely reverse that in an expedited fashion.

So the real question is: which is the proper place for the church youth center? Milton or Amherst? I think Milton, but I am not going to fist fight over it.

Religion? Politics? Public opinion? Personal vendettas?

I don’t know what to believe, anymore.

I went to preschool at West University Methodist Church, more than 50 years ago. My wife and I used to go to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. My twins went to preschool at West University Church of Christ, and later participated in an after-school program and played basketball at West University Baptist Church.

My personal view is this: Each of the six churches in West University Place is my neighbor. Each of our churches is as much a part of the success of West U as your home or mine.

When the settlers came to this country, they got off the boat, and carved out a patch of land to build a community. Before anyone built a house, together they built the church. Then the settlers built homes around the church. The church was the center of the neighborhood.

And nothing has changed.

31 Responses to “George Boehme: My Opinion”

  1. West U FACT Says:

    More West U residents do NOT belong to a church that sits in West U than do. To hear West U Baptist Church, you’d think that a majority of West U residents belong to that church. That is simply not the case. We had a vote. The vote went decidedly against letting the church expand its footprint and influence in West U. Enough. Let’s move on. If West U Baptist Church really wanted to add to our city, let it pay taxes. Put it’s millions and millions where its mouth is.

    • West U Resident Says:

      West U Fact, you’re about 3 or 4 months behind on this one. Now that the residents voted against the “land swap” the church gets to expand its footprint! As a matter of fact it gets a whole new block, starting with building its new Youth Center on Amherst!

  2. Gobsmacked Says:

    I never heard one opponent make this about religion. They simply did not want the traffic and noise that a youth center would bring in their neighborhood. They were also not happy about the tactics of City Council. It could have been a business entity and there still would have been opposition.

    • Confused Says:

      It may not have been about religion when the candidates were running for City Council. It was about the “land swap” and if that was a good deal for the City. But now that the swap seems to be off the table, the venom does seem to be directed toward the rights of a church to pursue the right to replace/build facilities to meet its needs. The way I understand it, the church wants to build a youth ministry building to meet its congregation’s needs as well as serve the neighborhood like they already do through their current programming. That’s all. It’s the same number of people who are coming to the vicinity already, whether they are West U residents or not.

      • Gobsmacked Says:

        The fact that people do not want to change the nature of a residential neighborhood with a youth center does not make them anti-religion. As someone stated, “It could be the Coca-Cola Corporation and I still would be against it.”

        • Confused Says:

          But be honest…have you seen the actual property that they want to build on? It fronts Amherst, is adjacent to the City Hall parking lot, across from Public Works and their plant operations. That block of Amherst would hardly be considered prime residential property. What would you propose they do with their land that is zoned for religious use when they feel the need to invest in their own infrastructure to meet the needs of their congregation? Do you have another idea for the use of their land?

          • Kenny powers Says:

            Zoned for religious use? It’s zoned single family residential. Churches are allowed to ignore those rules that everyone else plays by though

          • West U Resident Says:

            Look at the ordinance, Kenny, places of worship are listed as a primary use in areas zoned residential, so yeah, it’s zoned for churches. Gobsmacked, you must have your hearing aid turned off. The majority of the complainers were mad about the church per se, but when confronted with that, changed their argument to keep from appearing anti-religion.

          • Kenny powers Says:

            That is admittedly astonishing, but does not change the fact that it is definitively changing the character of a residential area to put up a “commercial” structure/use. I am discomforted to learn that some group could buy the lot next to me and build a church or an associated parking lot – I thought West U zoning would have been robust enough to preclude that kind of ridiculous result, but I stand corrected.

  3. Resident comment Says:

    George, many of the first immigrants / settlers came here to get away from the tyranny of religion.

    All others, what if you are Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Atheist, a member of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, etc.? How do you all feel about that?

    Just curious.

    • WU Mom Says:

      I am Catholic and I welcome any church that preaches love. Especially the teaching of acceptance.

      • maroon79 Says:

        couldn’t have said it better that you West U Mom.

      • Brokelyn Says:

        I love that sentiment and subscribe to it as well, WU Mom.

        I don’t know how to put what WUB has preached to me and an auditorium full of hundreds of children in context though. At one such event, the WUB representative told us that other religions and religious leaders (specifically citing Buddhists and Hindus) were inferior. The specific context of that statement was that the leaders of those religions were “still dead,” and had not risen again.

        I’m no religious scholar and claim no insight into the world’s religions, but I felt extremely uncomfortable, unloved, and unwelcomed at that moment. It wasn’t the only time I and my family were upset by some of WUB’s messages. We still participate, hoping that we will eventually understand, but I remain perplexed and hurt.

        • memberofWUBC Says:

          To Brokelyn…I sincerely apologize on behalf of WUBC if you were offended and hurt when at WUBC. We want to be a church that shows love to all who enter the doors. But the love that we strive to show comes from our relationship with Jesus. It is no secret that our church believes that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (which is obtained by believing that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead and then inviting him into your heart) is the one and only way to heaven. I know that sounds exclusive, but at the same time it is a free gift that is open to ALL who will accept it. Again, I am truly sorry if you were hurt by this message, but that is the basis of our faith so this message is regularly preached in our services.

  4. Confused Says:

    The property on Amherst that the church is proposing to build on has been in its possession for years and is in continual use for their ministries. The buildings themselves are past their useful life and it is wise for the church to consider the best use of their space to meet the needs of their various ministries. I am certain that the church will do its best to build a ministry building that is attractive and fits into the character of the neighborhood. But I do think it is arrogant for others to tell the church how/where to spend their resources (such as the suggestion above that they should move their ministry outside of West U because we have already benefited from it), just as it would be arrogant for me to tell a wealthy friend that I know a better and higher use for their money. What are those that are in opposition proposing that the church do with property with outdated, small buildings that do not meet their needs? Are they just opposing just to oppose? I ask sincerely; I really don’t understand the motivation.

    • Brokelyn Says:

      The church does not pay taxes on any of their properties, including parking lots.

      The city maintains the church’s sidewalks and other infrastructure that allows the church to have clean, running water, electricity, and police/fire protection.

      There’s a REAL cost to have the church here — wouldn’t you like to know how much you are paying in taxes to support them?

      WU shut down the recycling center largely on the premise that it was serving many people outside of WU and that we shouldn’t have to subsidize that usage. Shouldn’t the church be subjected to that same scrutiny since they are on the public dole?

      My suggestion above was NOT to move the ministry outside of WU — it was to make their incremental investments in new areas.

      • Confused Says:

        There may be a real cost to have WUBC here, as well as WUES, WULL, and WUMC (and others), but there are also real benefits to having the entities here as well, some tangible and some intangible. And you didn’t address why the church should not have the opportunity to make improvements/replacements to their own infrastructure. You suggest that it should only make incremental investments in new areas, which is an unfair premise. And the city maintains sidewalks and other infrastructure to other entities that do not pay taxes, such as HISD and even its own property. Criticize all you want on this point, but play fair and spread it around to all the “offending” parties, including HISD and the city itself, not just on a religious organization with whom you disagree.

  5. Gobsmacked Says:

    The Little League and soccer programs were made to expand in South Campus. As far as I know, these entities are not buying up residential land and rezoning them to another use.

    • West U Resident Says:

      Why should they buy residential properties, Gobsmacked, when West U lets them gobble up all the city-owned open space for their athletic fields.

      • gobsmacked Says:

        At least they are not reducing the tax base.

        • memberofWUBC Says:

          If there was lot of open green space available and they had adequate resources, I’m sure they would try to buy it.

          • Kenny powers Says:

            Those entities could buy a residential property, but they could not tear it down and build a commercial scale building and a parking lot on that land. That is the key difference. They would probably have to pay property taxes as well on that land (not 100% sure on that)

      • maroon79 Says:

        what green space would you be talking about?

  6. Lucille Gallman Says:

    Allan Turner has an article in the Chronicle dated yesterday that needs updating.

  7. Jeff Smith Says:

    Thank you for supporting the churches of West U., and for the impact they have had in your many years living in this neighborhood.

  8. Brokelyn Says:

    As a leader in one of the children’s programs I can tell you that roughly half of the kids in the program are West U residents.

    George, thanks for your views. See my thoughts in a related post, if you wish. The point of it was that the church is already the “center” of our city and that it would be gracious of them to use their incremental capital to expand to new parts of the Houston area (like the Third Ward, where their money, presence, and ministry would add much more value than it will in West U, where we have already benefitted from the church).

    As a side note, I wonder how accepting people would be if someone wanted to build a mosque in the center of West U? Would they be welcomed as neighbors? Would we build homes around it? George, your life and the lives of many of us have centered around the Western church, so what you wrote will certainly ring true for many people. Just don’t fool yourself into believing that the view you presented is one that can be shared by all. It is a vision that excludes certain people who do not belong to the churches that populate West U. These people are welcomed by the church to join their programs, but I imagine that it would be very uncomfortable for someone of another faith to sit through the church’s messaging (which West U Baptist is very good at delivering).

    • Les Albin Says:

      Don’t fool yourself that there is any position on any issue that can be shared by all in West U.

    • memberofWUBC Says:

      WUBC does support ministries in other parts of the city with finances and people already. We suport Agape Development in the Third Ward, the Casa El Buen Samaritano Clinic in SW Houston along Main Street and various other ministry partners.

      I’m curious if those opposed to any church expansion are also opposed to little league or soccer program expansion. Those programs are both open to participants from outside WU Place. I would dare say that those programs contribute far more to the traffic / parking congestion in the neighborhood than does the church. (I fully support those programs, but am just asking the question).

      • Brokelyn Says:

        Thanks for the additional information. WU Baptist does indeed spread its influence widely and for that they should be commended.

        Since you asked, I do wish that WULL would cede some of their land to WUES so that the school, the heart and soul of our city, could expand to accommodate our overflowing classrooms.

  9. Stan McCandless Says:

    I think it might be sobering to all of the churches, and perhaps to West U “Government”, that have buildings in the confines of The City of West University Place to see just how many parishioners of each church actually live in our city? Each church is a special interest entity and perhaps are a class as a group. Perhaps we apportion land (per square feet) to each church by active City membership in each Church? And don’t forget to survey the non church goers.

    • Free Country Still Says:

      This is still a free country! Churches that get polled are in Communist countries where the government rules and regulates them. Dude, think about what you are saying. This church has been in this community for over 80 years. They were approached by the city because they were seeking to update their facilities and land that is already used for this exact purpose. Whether you go and worship there, or anywhere for that matter, people are free from the government’s intervention into their lives when it comes to polling the roles of their church or church attendance. This isn’t China, Cuba, or the Soviet Union!

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