Council discusses zoning, flooding, Peifer for city manager

October 27, 2015

By Sarah Tucker

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” seemed to be the motto for Monday night’s West University City Council meeting — especially on two agenda items that could have impacted the city’s dealings with its churches.

One of those agenda items that council had no interest in “fixing” was institutional zoning.

Councilmember Brennan Reilly wanted the Zoning and Planning Commission to research institutional zoning to see if it “makes sense” for the city.

Reviewing how institutional zoning was done for West University Baptist Church in an ad hoc way, Reilly wanted to be more “thoughtful and deliberate” in the zoning process.

But Robin Lindley, chair of the board of trustees for the West University United Methodist Church, was skeptical of Reilly’s intent.

“I do not think for a minute that you’re doing this for the benefit of the church,” Lindley said.

Reilly and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly also discussed appointing a task force to review institutional zoning with the churches before going to the ZPC. Lindley said his church would want to be part of the task force, but “we don’t think this path needs to be followed at all.”

Both Mayor Susan Sample and Councilmember Mardi Turner called Reilly’s proposal “overreaching.”

Sample said she didn’t believe West U had a parking problem with the churches and that the current agreement worked to the city’s advantage. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” she said, quoting Kelly.

Ultimately, Reilly’s motion failed when no councilmember expressed interest in taking up his proposal.

Needs fixing

Council did decide to take up the matter of Town Center zoning, ultimately recommending that the ZPC review it, specifically for parking improvements, with a 4-1 vote.

The path to approve Town Center zoning was a lengthy one, going back to discussions that began 10 years ago and was ultimately the result of an 18-month-long ad hoc task force, according to Interim City Manager Chris Peifer.

Sample, who was on council when the Town Center zoning was put to a vote, said she voted against it after a change she felt was “disingenuous” was added late. She agreed with Reilly’s proposal but only if ZPC had a limited scope.

Councilmember Burt Ballanfant disagreed with the proposal, saying it was still early in the young administration and that they should let ZPC members bring it to the council when they were ready. He cast the lone dissenting vote.

Council also recommended the Building and Standards Commission study the appropriate elevation of homes and its relation to height restrictions.

Quoting several area cities with base flood elevation requirements, Sample requested West U look at its new construction.

Based on FEMA flood maps from 2007, most of West University is at risk of flooding. When Project Braes is completed, most of West University would be outside the flood plain, said Dave Beach, director of Public Works. That project, which is behind schedule, would take a minimum of two years to complete.

The item passed 4-1, with Reilly against.

Not broken

Another agenda item up for discussion that didn’t need “fixing” was property tax exemptions, which was added to the agenda at the request of Councilmembers Reilly and Kelly.

Reilly had questions of propriety regarding how the city’s leases to third parties could affect the city’s tax-exempt status.

City Attorney Alan Petrov allayed Reilly’s concerns by describing protections built into the law so lessees are responsible for any taxes.

“We’re in good shape,” Petrov said.

Council also voted 4-1 to enter into contract negotiations with Interim City Manager Peifer.

Kelly, who had previously expressed interest in retaining an executive search firm to fill the city manager position, advocated for Peifer based on his knowledge of West U culture and Kelly’s own experience working with him.

Sample was the dissenting vote, asking council to at least consider what the search firms could offer.

In other action, council:

  • Authorized participation in the annual Houston Marathon, which includes street closures and hosting the Marathon Hoopla Station and Mayor’s Marathon Breakfast at the Municipal Building;
  • Greenlighted the redevelopment of the west end of Colonial Park for $375,000. Part of the 2015 Parks Master Plan, the improvements include adding barbecue grills, a raised deck and water fountains among other features;
  • Appointed Patrick Stallings to chief prosecutor and Casey Garrett to prosecutor. Both positions became available after a round of promotions due to Judge Candelario Elizondo’s pending retirement;
  • Appointed Samantha Morrison and Gordon Richardson to the Friends of West U Parks Fund, positions 15 and 21, respectively; and
  • Approved an interlocal agreement with the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District regarding West University’s continued participation in the Water Wise Education Program.

WU council-web