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West U sued by Fortune 50 company

September 8, 2016 By:George Boehme

City Council, Local News

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West University Place was served with a lawsuit from corporate mega-giant AT&T earlier this week.

This lawsuit was not unexpected and is the latest chapter in a battle between a handful of neighbors on Ruskin and Cason streets and AT&T, one of West University Place’s first businesses, at 4068 Bellaire Blvd. AT&T alleges that a recent action by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment is “illegal and void.”

At issue was six residential lots that had been granted a special exception in the 1970s to be used as parking for company vehicles. The first building at the site opened in the 1930s.

Residents alleged at the ZBA hearing that the business had morphed into a “warehouse” facility, with scores of commercial vans and trucks coming and going six days a week to deliver Uverse and Direct TV equipment.

The city’s planning official and city attorney  said the city’s zoning ordinance allowed AT&T to load and unload trucks in the parking district. The city attorney agreed and wrote an opinion reflecting that interpretation.

A resident challenged the opinion of the city planning department and the city attorney by filing an appeal with the ZBA. The ZBA reversed the ruling by the city staff.

The ZBA is a statutory requirement in Home Rule cities like West U. It is a five-member appointed, volunteer board whose actions are not subject to review by the city council.

The board is a quasi-judicial body that hears appeals from administrative decisions, grants special exceptions and variances, and interprets the intent of the zoning ordinance. An affected party has the right to appeal the decision directly to State District Court, and AT&T did that.

ZBA actions are some of the few municipal decisions that are not subject to any review by the city council.

The city is not the defendant in lawsuits of this type; the defendant is “The Zoning Board of Adjustment of the City of West University Place, Texas.” However, the ZBA has no budget or litigation authority. So decisions about the litigation and any related costs are decided by the city council and the associated costs are borne by West U taxpayers.

8 Responses to “West U sued by Fortune 50 company”

  1. Melinda Yee Says:

    While I don’t wish to incur unnecessary costs, the issue is that operations and consequently traffic near the AT&T site have increased. In the 1970s, AT&T was allowed to purchase the residential lots for parking for its employees when the site was used as an administrative building. Now the site is used for warehousing and distribution. AT&T is still allowed to operate on its commercial site. That doesn’t extend across the entirety of the lots though. It’s only going to get worse for the neighborhood (for property values, traffic and safety) if left unmitigated. We are only requiring AT&T to comply with the requirements of regulations that have existed for decades.

    Reply

  2. Robert Grossman Says:

    ATT is appealing to County Court the ZBA decision as provided by state law. The ZBA reversed the City Staff opinion that ATT is permitted to load/unload and stock service vehicles. ATT wants the Staff decision reinstated. ATT has additionally asked the court to construe the zoning ordinance to “permit activities that are accessory and ancillary to the parking of service vehicles” (see ATT pleadings).

    Over the last two years ATT regular accessory and ancillary activities have included making mechanical repairs to the trucks; changing tires on the trucks; washing and cleaning the trucks; and, inventorying and restocking the trucks and the warehouse daily. All of this occurs in a residential district.

    On windy days, litter is blown into the neighborhood from the lots and open dumpster. The ATT contract repair technician told City Police (on video) that he was performing mechanical repairs regularly from midnight to 4 am several days a week. On June 28, 2016, eight months after being told that servicing of trucks was not permitted, ATT continued to change tires in the lots.

    In the morning the trucks honk repeatedly as they back up and maneuver in the crowded lot on their way to their first stops. This commotion goes on for close to an hour every day across the street from single family residences on two sides.

    By July 28, the ZBA had heard testimony from ATT or neighbors and deliberated for more than eight hours on four different occasions. That night, ATT Operation Manager for 6707 Academy testified the building is used to store materials to restock the trucks, a meeting room for drivers, and a few offices for the Crew Supervisors (audio record is available). The ZBA concluded by refusing the ATT final request to reopen their decision that, according to ordinance 1039, “the parking lots are for parking”.

    The ZBA fully understood the facts and the law related to the activities on the ATT parking-lot. ATT has every right under Texas law to appeal that decision in County Court as have others this year. There is nothing extraordinary or unusual about the ATT lawsuit. The city must defend the decision of the ZBA which Texas law dictates is the only authority allowed to apply the city zoning ordinance. Only the County District Court Judge can overrule the ZBA interpretation of the simple clear language of Zoning Ordinance 1039.

    Defending our city zoning ordinances occasionally cost money. We are the only zoned property within loop 610. Residential land in West U is among the highest priced land in Texas and the US. The cost has proven worthwhile in the past.

    Rebuttal to Mr. Segal. The City Council is not authorized by State law to change a property use as part of the resolution of a lawsuit without the change to the Zoning Ordinance being submitted and approved by the ZPC and ratified by Council. If this occurred in the past; then, it is doubtful that those changes could withstand a challenge in court.

    Reply

  3. Steven Segal Says:

    Hopefully the Council (a majority) will settle this case and save taxpayers thousand of dollars. I was a member of ZBA when an exception/variance was denied and the applicant sued ZBA. The Council settled the case, avoiding further expenses.

    Reply

  4. Anonymous (but not that one) Says:

    Thanks, Brennan. This one’s got your fingerprints all over it.

    And just wait, West U taxpayers: Just wait until Brennan unleashes the US Department of Justice to sue the City over homeowners parking (gasp!) in their own (very short) driveways across sidewalks! Wait for your taxes to increase so that Brennan can feel oh-so-superior and important.

    Reply

    • Anonymou Says:

      Brennan is trying to support the disabled, which is a good thing. Are you so selfish that you don’t care about the disabled? If you check the voting record of our “leadership”, you will find no support for the disabled, no support for Seniors, discrimination against it’s own citizens, lack of fiscal responsibility, etc. I hope WUP citizens remember this when it is time to elect new leadership. Or, do you think it is fiscally responsible to buy WUP police expensive cars, continue to increase employees pay scales & giving special interests discounted rates to rent the senior center, while refusing to give WUP Senior a tax exemption?

      Reply

  5. Selby Clark Says:

    I’m afraid that suggestion wouldn’t be a very neighborhood friendly solution. For the very same reason that many citizens would like to see the storage of all West-U garbage and utility trucks moved out of the center of the city and relocated across the street from our water tower on West Park. Hopefully we can arrive at a much more friendly solution than a concrete wall in a residential neighborhood.

    Reply

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I support AT&T. I see big truck every day in WUP. Even the city waste department added big trucks for the new recycling program. If it bothers the neighbors, let AT&T build a cinder block wall to block the parking lot.

    Reply

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