Council Approves “Super Block” Plan

October 13, 2014

The West U City Council on Monday unanimously approved the creation of a “Super Block” that would house future city facilities, despite complaints from property owners who said the action would block their ability to sell their homes.
The council also took action to allow the sale of the city’s Public Works operations facilities on the northeast corner of Milton and College Streets, with the goal of relocating those facilities to the former Recycling Center on Westpark Drive.
The city announced the plan last week, describing it in a press release as “a master planning exercise” that could be enacted 30 years in the future. The city also notified property owners in the area bordered by University, Amherst, Auden and College Streets of the proposed “master plan.”
But several property owners, including attorney Mike Brem, said the creation of the Super Block would effectively prevent him and three other property owners from selling their homes.
“What does this do to the four property owners? Who would want to buy their properties? How would we even be able to sell them, should anybody desire to leave?” Brem asked.
Katherine Sweeney, another homeowner on University, echoed his concerns.
Sweeney complained about a similar city plan that was discussed in West U about seven years ago.
“In 2007, we had our first conversation about this issue. We’ve been in our home since 1979. We had planned to stay in our home,” Sweeney said. “I do not believe you are not going to use your power of eminent domain.”
Although Mayor Bob Fry and City Manager Michael Ross told the homeowners that the city’s long-range plan calls for West U to pay “fair market value” for the properties in the Super Block, Sweeney replied: “I don’t believe it.”
Ross stressed that “No one will be asked to leave their property. This is how cities do long-term planning.”
Ross said the Facilities Master Plan provides that the city would purchase the properties “only as homes become available.”
David Dutch, who lives on Rice Blvd., also objected to the plans.
“I think this idea is horrible. I don’t want my tax dollars used for this,” Dutch said. “I don’t like the way this whole thing is progressing.”
The city council has been meeting in executive session with Jeff Gerber, of PGAL Architects, about a 30-year plan for future city facilities. But, Ross said that a decision by West University Baptist Church to build a “Youth Center” had speeded up the city’s plans to relocate the public works facilities.
The church has been planning to build the new youth center on Amherst, “and they need to begin construction in the first quarter of 2015,” Ross said.
“This was seen as an opportunity to partner with the church,” Ross said. “The church has always been a good neighbor.”
But Dutch said, “I have grave concerns about the church being too closely aligned with city government.”