Big Issues at WU Council Meeting Monday

March 22, 2015

After hearing the results of a random sample survey of registered voters, the West University Place City Council on Monday will consider authorizing the sale or transfer of property with West University Baptist Church in the controversial “Super Block” proposal for new municipal facilities.

The council will begin with a special workshop meeting at 5:30 p.m. at city hall.

The council also will consider whether to ratify earlier actions taken by City Manager Michael Ross “ to investigate the sale or exchange of property,” including  “the authorization for a special exception for the property at 3826 Milton Street for use by the West University Baptist Church.”

The council’s agenda also includes consideration of a $199,000 contract with Pierce Goodwin Alexander Linville’s (PGAL) “to provide professional design services for a new 10,770 square foot Public Works Maintenance Facility located on the Dincans property.”

Also on the council agenda is consideration of a Parks Master Plan developed over the past year by a special Task Force on West U Parks. The new Parks Master plan would call for the update or redevelopment of the city’s neighborhood parks on a regular basis, at least every two years, to meet changing needs of the West U community.

Although it is not listed as a top priority, the task force has recommended that the city should “pursue acquisition of additional parks park property for development as passive, unstructured open space, if parameters specified in the plan can be met. “

Those parameters include that new parks space should be acquired “within the target area between Edloe and Buffalo Speedway, both north and south of University” with no new tax rate increase, and with the support of area neighbors.

The council’s agenda is a laundry list of issues in the city’s municipal election, with several candidates raising questions about West U’s long-range Master Plan for city facilities and whether the city should acquire new parkland with $2 million in bonds approved by West U voters in 2006.

The council will to hear the results of a survey of 1,300 registered voters in West U, which was conducted by University of Houston pollster and political science professor Dr. Richard Murray. The council decided to conduct a citywide survey after its attempt last year to adopt the long-range Master Plan for Municipal Facilities ran into strong opposition from a number of West U residents.

The idea of creating a municipal campus, located between University, Auden, College and Amherst Streets was complicated by the desire of the West U Baptist Church to build a new Youth Center on its property on Amherst. The city’s possible real estate transaction involves the sale or “swap” of the church’s Amherst property for the city’s Milton property that now houses the maintenance and operations side of the city’s Public Works department.

The council’s scheduled consideration of a contract with the PGAL architectural firm indicates that the council is poised to move forward with the relocation of the garbage trucks to the city-owned property that formerly housed the Recycle Express, on Dincans.

The municipal campus plan initially drew opposition from property owners in the so-called Super Block, until the council made it clear there would be no use of eminent domain, and that all privately owned property would be purchase at fair market value. The plan then drew opposition from many West U residents who were initially concerned about the potential relocation of the city’s Senior Services and the West U Library. When those properties were removed from the plan, there still remained a pocket of West U residents who do not want the church to build a new Youth Center in the middle of the city. Opponents of the youth center contend it will cause additional traffic congestion and noise, and that it is not suited to the residential neighborhood.

City Council candidates Brennan Riley and former Mayor Bob Kelly are still opposed to the new Youth Center, although Kelly’s earliest opposition had to do with “a lack of transparency” with the council first proposed the plan late last year.

Council candidate and former Mayor Burt Ballanfant is basing a large part of his candidacy on the need for additional parkland, specifically in the underserved area of West U between Edloe Street and Buffalo Speedway.

The new Public Works maintenance facility on Dincans would replace the existing facilities on Milton, and would “house fleet maintenance, facilities, traffic control, solid waste & recycling and possibly a new animal control shelter.”

A “tentative” schedule for the new facility includes six to eight weeks for design and construction documents, 12 to 18 weeks for city of Houston permit approval, and eight to 10 months for bidding, award and construction of the new facility.