Council Hears Survey Results, Continues Church Talks

March 23, 2015

A strong plurality of West U residents — 49.3 percent support the West U City Council’s property exchange with West University Place Baptist Church and relocation of the Public Works Maintenance facility, while nearly 36 percent of those surveyed strongly oppose the plan.

Dr. Richard Murray of the University of Houston Hobby Center for Public Policy presented the results of a random survey of 1,300 West U registered voters to the city council in a workshop meeting Monday night.

Murray told the council that about 46 percent of the 1,300  voters who were surveyed — 580 registered voters — responded to the survey.

“There’s a passionate minority of opposition and a larger group supportive of the city,” Murray said.

Opponents of the city’s long-term Master Plan for Municipal Facilities immediately raised doubts about Murray’s findings, even though the University of Houston pollster said there was “significant” opposition to the city’s plan.

During the contentious workshop and council meeting Monday, West U Mayor Bob Fry asked Police Chief Ken Walker to escort two people from the council chambers as they heatedly tried to comment during the council’s deliberations.

The council authorized City Manager Michael Ross to continue negotiations with West U Baptist Church over real estate negotiations that involved a potential land swap that would allow the church to build a new, 7000-square foot Youth Center at 3826 Milton Street.

The real estate deal would involve the transfer of church-owned property on Amherst, to allow the city of West U to build a so-called “Super Block” of municipal facilities on the block bordered by University, Auden, Amherst and College.

With Councilman Ed Heathcott abstaining, the council unanimously approved authorizing the continued negotiations with the church. Heathcott has recused himself from deliberations about the city’s long-term Master Plan, since he is a deacon of West U Baptist.

By the same vote, the council also approved a $199,000 contract with PGAL architects for design of a new Public Works Maintenance facility on the city’s old RecycleExpress property, located on Dincans Street in the city of Houston.

Brennan Reilly, a city council candidate and leading opponent of the city’s Super Block, as well as the new Youth Center, told the council that the “real survey” of West U voters would take place on May 9, the day of a municipal election to select a new council.

“This city government is going to change, when these citizens you are ignoring right now are going to be heard,” Reilly said.

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample, who is running unopposed in her bid to become the next mayor of West U, said that a 2006 city ordinance already on the books would allow the church to build its new Youth Center.

Several opponents said the council should have waited to contract with architects, until the costs of relocating the Public Works facility are known.

Dave Beach, the assistant director of the Public Works Department, said the estimated costs of $2 million to $2.5 million to relocate the facilities would be determined by the architects.

Mayor Bob Fry said the final decision about the city’s long-term Municipal Facilities Plan will be determined by the West U Zoning Board of Adjustment. The ZBA is scheduled to meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss and possibly take action on the special exceptions sought by the city of West U and the West U Baptist Church.

Among Murray’s findings, presented in a 44-page report to the council, are doubts expressed by some respondents about whether the city should enforce its zoning rules and prevent the church from building a youth center in the residential area.

The report includes several pages of comments from opponents of the Youth Center, including one respondent who stated: “The Church should not dictate the future of West U.”