Council Okays Super Block Survey

January 12, 2015

By a 3-1 vote, the West U City Council on Monday approved conducting a survey of a random sample of registered voters to gauge public opinion on a long-range master plan for the so-called “Super Block.”

After a handful of West U residents expressed mixed feelings about the survey, the council decided to proceed with the random sample by Dr. Richard Murray, a well-respected pollster at the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy.

Councilman Dick Yehle cast the lone vote against the survey, and Councilman Ed Heathcott abstained.

Yehle said he did not think the survey would satisfy the “adversaries” of the city’s long-range master plan for city facilities, which involves the creation of a municipal campus on some lots owned by West University Baptist Church. Heathcott, a deacon of the church, has been abstaining on votes involving the controversial plan.

Murray met with the council during a part of its executive session before the regularly scheduled council meeting. He suggested that a survey sampling registered voters could be quickly completed.

But some West U residents said the survey would be “a waste of money.”

“I think it’s a waste of taxpayer money to have a survey about something that is already decided,” said West U resident A.A. Drewes. “Why do we need a survey, anyway? You’ve already decided this.”

West U resident Eddie Matthews said, however, that he supports the idea of a survey. But, he suggested that the “random sample,” allow property owners who would be most affected by the city’s long-range facilities master plan to participate.

David Dutch, another West U resident, said he wants more “transparency” about the cost of the city’s long-term plan for municipal buildings.

West U Mayor Bob Fry said that the council is merely paving the way for future city councils to build new city buildings on a block bordered by University Blvd., and Auden, Amherst and College Sts.

City Manager Michael Ross said he hopes that the survey could be completed, with the results presented to the council as early as February 23.

“I think it will certainly help to know residents’ sentiments,” Ross said.

Ross said the draft survey Murray has prepared will include information about the city’s long-range master plan for city buildings, with two simple questions: whether residents think the creation of a municipal campus is a good idea, and whether residents think that moving the Public Works’ operation facilities to the old Recycle Express property is a good idea.

The council also met in executive session with San Antonio attorney Lowell Denton about religious land use in cities and other related matters.

Denton is considered a legal expert about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which governs the property rights of religious institutions. That law, as well as a Texas statute, has figured prominently in discussions of the city’s long-range plan to create a municipal campus, in real estate transactions that could involve West University Baptist Church. The church had proposed building a Youth Center on land it now owns on Amherst St., which would block the city’s plan to create a Super Block of municipal buildings on the block bordered by University Blvd., Auden, Amherst and College Sts. The long-range facilities plan calls for a potential real estate transaction in which the city and the church would “trade” the church properties on Amherst for the city’s Public Works operations and maintenance facility on Milton St. That way, the church could built its new Youth Center on Milton, without blocking any future municipal campus.

The issue has been controversial in West U since the long-range master plan was first unveiled in early October.

In other action, the council unanimously approved calling a February 9 joint public hearing with the West U Zoning and Planning Commission on a proposed new set of regulations for non-single family residential properties in the city. The joint public hearing will be the culmination of a year-long effort by the city to rewrite the zoning ordinance for commercial properties in West U.