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Secret meeting about new parkland, other council actions

September 15, 2015 By:Charlotte Aguilar

Local News

By Charlotte Aguilar

Nearly a decade after West U voters approved a $2 million bond for parkland acquisition – and with the funding set to expire next year – City Council has asked for a new assessment of potential properties meeting the city’s strict park guidelines.

Councilmembers Burt Ballanfant and Mardi Turner, both longtime supporters of West U buying the so-called “Ownby tract” in the 3600 block of Pittsburgh at Poor Farm Ditch, listed an item on Monday’s agenda to discuss “matters related to the value or transfer of real property or other real estate matters.”

That wording qualified the issue for a closed-door executive session.

When the mayor and councilmembers emerged, there was no mention of Ownby. Instead, the council voted to ask Tim O’Connor, parks and recreation director, to bring back a study to them in two weeks that identifies prospective properties between Buffalo Speedway and Edloe Street, as well as how the $2 million bond funding could be used before authorization runs out.

Most recently, the Ownby property has been on the market for $3.6 million, and estimates run between $7-10 million to develop it for public use.

In a 2014 survey about parks, West U residents were lukewarm about buying more parkland, and sentiment was overwhelming that private funding should be secured for parks acquisition and development.

While councilmembers raised questions about the parks master plan and the bond, Mayor Susan Sample had a more basic interest: “We need to make sure it’s what people really want,” she said, alluding to high turnover in the city since 2006. “Our park survey said that it wasn’t.”

There’s another study in store for West U — a citizen-driven one about city facilities.

Councilman Brennan Reilly was successful – over Sample’s concerns – in gaining council approval to form a new citizens facilities master plan task force. Acting City Manager Chris Peifer indicated he would adjust the standard boards and commissions application form for the new group, which will be appointed by council.

Reilly asked that publicizing the task force and interviews start as soon as possible.

The discussion turned contentious when Sample sought to have assessment of the library considered by a separate task force and accused Reilly of “encroaching” on one of her favorite issues. “I’m not saying I want it rebuilt,” Sample said, “but right now it’s failing our residents.”

She cited concerns about Americans With Disabilities Act compliance, asbestos, and code violations.

Reilly countered by asking Sample when she had last checked out a book in the West U library.

In other action, the City Council:

  • Learned from Finance Director Rhonda Daugherty that the city had received a tax roll totaling $5.4 billion from the Harris County Appraisal District. That amount included new property appraised at $81 million.
  • Adopted a resolution declaring that next year’s property tax rate would not exceed 33.571 cents for each $100 of assessed value and set public hearings on the tax rate and budget for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 5 and 12.
  • Heard a lengthy report and residents’ views about flooding in the city – most specifically in West U’s lowest point, the 3800 block of Southwestern Street, where homes filled with water during extreme storms in April and May. The report indicated that residents’ requests to add two inlets won’t stop the flooding but could alleviate it. The council asked to have staff prepare figures that could be considered during final budget deliberations next month.
West U City Council files out for an executive session about "real estate matters" dealing with parkland acquisition Monday night.

West U City Council files out for an executive session about “real estate matters” dealing with parkland acquisition Monday night.

Mayor Susan Sample and Councilman Brennan Reilly, right, battled over Reilly's proposal to create a citizens facilities master plan task force and Sample's insistence that the library be evaluated by a separate task force. After a vote, Reilly prevailed.

Mayor Susan Sample and Councilman Brennan Reilly, right, battled over Reilly’s proposal to create a citizens facilities master plan task force and Sample’s insistence that the library be evaluated by a separate task force. After a vote, Reilly prevailed.

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9 Responses to “Secret meeting about new parkland, other council actions”

  1. Will Bertron Says:

    Dear Anonymous (why???)-

    You should get out more. Colonial Park at 4130 Byron in West U is a signature park with a (large) water element, shade trees, picnic tables, etc, and the east half is unfenced and available for unstructured free play. It is a gem, and Tim O’Conoor, Susan White and Trace Worthy do a masterful job keeping it amazing. (THANKS!!!) Folks come from everywhere to enjoy it, and perhaps you should too.

    In the middle of our city we have Huffington Park, Friends Park and West U Elementary School. Combined, that area likely exceeds the entirety of park space found in nearly every comparable city our size.

    The Ownby property has likely served as a lovely homestead for their family through the years, but its not an ideal spot for a park. It’s a hard to find dead end with with no parking that’s got an adjacent ditch to serve as a breeding ground for insects, reptiles and rodents. (No slight to Ownbys intended.)

    We have $2 myn to spend. This property is listed for $3.6, plus another $7-$10 myn to develop. My math says $13.6 myn is more than $2 myn- a lot more. Let’s instead spend the $2 myn to enlarge Huffington, Whitt Johnson or Fleming. Or not spend it.

    This is one of Burt’s pet projects and it has been for years. I bet Michael Ross was first on his to do list, followed by this. Watch closely his left hand, and as you do a dove will emerge from his right. Tah-dah!

    Thanks Instant News for this place for citizens to connect and share. Hopefully City Council monitors this as they’d learn a lot by doing so. My only request would be for those who submit to use their actual name. When you use silly names like “anonymous” or “unhappy camper” or “aging resident” that makes folks question your motive while lessening your credibility.

    • Will Bertron Says:

      Meant to add two things, just in case Council is watching-

      1. “Transparency is the practice of operating an organization in a way that allows its actions to be observed.” Closed-door executive session? If the door’s closed it’s not transparent, and if they were executives they’d be fired.

      2. Council smoked a lot of cash (our money, with which they were entrusted) on their Michael Ross campaign. Easy and fun with other people’s money, eh? “Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources.”

      • anonymous Says:

        Council “smoked” a lot of tax money on gold medical care for staff, attorney fees, etc. Tim O’Conner, Parks & Rec. director bought playground equipment. It was too large for the site, so he ask it be sent to 3rd world. Talk about wasting money! He also wanted to buy left over paintings from a party he attended with tax money. Really?!!! So much waste in spending tax money!

    • anonymous Says:

      Not everyone is allowed to enjoy the signature park. This city refuses admission to select residents. It may be a “gem”, but if this city management refuses to allow ANY taxpayer admittance as a punishment, citizens need to look at replacing staff who will not provide service to their customer. No one is indispensable! This includes the Parks & Rec director!

      Friends Park is underutilized. It is facing West, so it is too hot most of the year. There is not real shade. Instead of putting trees in that park, Tim decided to put a row of trees by the library where they are not needed.

  2. Jim Shields Says:

    The slate seems to have a fetish about secret meetings. I understand their desire to hide their nefarious activity, like firing our city manager, under the cover of secrecy. But why do parks and libraries need such protection from us citizens?

    Regarding our library, what possible connection is there between Susan’s personal use of the library and her desire to bring the building up to ADA standards?

    Is Brennan a lone ranger on the library issue or do Kelly, Ballanfant, and Turner oppose spending money on the library?

    • anonymous Says:

      You are so right about secret meetings! Tim O’Conner suggested subcommittee meetings to a recent board meeting. This is a SECRET MEETING! I spend time at the library & have NEVER seen Susan enter the library. If she is so interested, why hasn’t she done anything to improve it? I applaud Brennan for taking the reins. Maybe he will get something done. Time will tell. The library IS unsafe. There is asbestos, no fire alarm, fire sprinklers, & it is not code compliant. It does Not meet ADA standards. I have seen the disabled in a wheelchair struggle. This is cruel! If Susan really spent time in the library, she would see the real issues! She puts on a good show about spending taxpayer money, then refuses services to taxpayers! You want your recall, here is your just cause!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Why not buy property next to Poor Farm Ditch? It could be a signature park in the middle of our city. There could be a water element, shade trees, picnic tables, etc. WUP does not have a signature park! We need an open park without fences in this community.

    • Steven Segal Says:

      Whoever you are without a name — Are you concerned that the “park” would be in the “back yard” of certain residences and that there is inadequate parking available on a dead end street?

      The parks director was asked by Council (more likely directed) “to bring back a study to them in two weeks that identifies prospective properties between Buffalo Speedway and Edloe Street, as well as how the $2 million bond funding could be used before authorization runs out.” We know the Slate has already picked the property that is targeted.

      This is not the way West U Council should approach a park acquisition. The Friends of the West University Place Parks Fund and the Parks and Recreation Board are totally ignored. Certain members of this Council have no interest in learning what residents really want! So much for the promised transparency and citizen input. I guess the Slate’s campaign promises were designed to get votes and not about how they would govern. I am glad I did not vote for them.

      • anonymous Says:

        Stephen, you have a good point. Parking is a problem at a dead end. City management has disregarded valid input on parking issues. Why stop at Buffalo Speedway when looking for future parkland? Services are refused to segments of the city. Where do you propose a park be situated? If the Slate is hell bend on that property, the citizens should speak out before it is a done deal. I know the Slate ignores input, but give it anyway. Their time will end soon enough.

        The slate is making many wrong decisions. They are trying to buy the loyalty of the staff with an expensive medical insurance plan. You can’t force staff to stay, you don’t own people!

        If “Friends” are ignored, it is their fault! They have a vote. Don’t allow Tim O’Conner to be so involved. He use tax resources for private parties! “Friends” just spent money for HISD property, not WUP parks! Shame on our citizens on that Board for making that decision. They are NOT friends of WUP parks!

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