Candidates Make Opposition to Church Youth Center a Campaign Issue

This story has been updated sine its original post. 

A local church wants to build a youth center. But Former City Councilmember and Mayor Bob Kelly and local activist Brennan Reilly think a church youth center is a bad idea. Both are candidates for city council in the May 9 municipal elections and both are hoping to use their opposition to the West University Baptist Church youth facility as a springboard for a successful campaign.

Reilly has even suggested the use of eminent domain against the church, a legal technique that lets a government forcibly take private property, to prevent the church from building its proposed 7,500 sq. ft. youth center. Others, like current Mayor Bob Fry, believe a new youth center is a positive thing for West University Place and should be encouraged.

West University Baptist Church has been in West University Place since 1941 and gave the city the land where City Hall is located.

Every West University Place home received an informational packet in the mail explaining general land-use plans for the possible future locations of some city facilities to occur over the next half-century. The proposal is a non-binding outline for future city councils and can be changed at any time by a majority vote of any future city council.

Also discussed in the informational packet is the possibility of West U trading several church owned lots that abut City Hall for the land that is the location of the Public Works Maintenance Facility. The Public Works Maintenance Facility houses the solid waste/recycling, fleet maintenance, and traffic operations. The facility also includes a full-service vehicle and equipment repair and maintenance operation.

Under this scenario, the unsightly Public Works Maintenance Facility would be relocated outside the West University Place city limits and the church youth facility would take its place at the northeast corner of Milton and College. The city would gain ownership of three lots on Amherst Street that abut the western boundary of City Hall.

The mayor and city council believed they faced an either/or choice – make the land swap with the church, or do nothing which blocks the potential future campus or greenspace once a multi-million dollar youth facility is built behind City Hall.

Kelly and Reilly both oppose the construction of a church youth facility at either location. The current mayor and city council disagree with Kelly and Reilly. “Your city council feels strongly that we are creating a plan that will allow future city councils and residents many more options when it comes time to rebuild the city facilities as they reach the end of their useful life as well as being in the best interests of affected property owners,” said West University Place Mayor Bob Fry, “All we ask is that you read the informational brochure with an open mind.”