Council to Hold Special Meeting on Church Land Deal

May 11, 2015

Despite an election victory by opponents, the West U City Council will hold a special meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to consider a land deal with West University Baptist Church.

Notice of the special meeting was posted shortly before 5 p.m. Monday on the city’s website.

The only item on the agenda is:  “Real Estate Agreement with the West University Baptist Church. Matters related to the value or transfer of real property and other real estate matters with the West University Baptist Church and other properties in the 3800 blocks of University and Amherst. Recommended Action: Discuss and take any desired action.”

The city and the church have been involved in real estate negotiations over a possible land deal that would provide church-owned property for the city to build a Super Block of Municipal Facilities, and city-owned property for the church to build a new Youth Center.

West U Mayor Bob Fry said he believes the council should continue with the land swap, despite the election results.

“It’s the best thing for the city to do in the long term,” Fry said Monday. “The opposition candidates ran a very effective campaign and got their voters out. When they are in office, they can run the city as they see fit. In the meantime, we still are in office, and we still have to do the right thing for 15,000 residents of West U. We are continuing the process, and we’ll see where it takes us,” Fry said.

“We are bringing up the same issues that we tabled at the last council meeting,” Fry said.

Brennan Reilly, a key opponent of the Super Block, said: “It would certainly appear that we were all hoodwinked at the last council meeting.”

Reilly and three other council candidates, including former West U Mayors Bob Kelly and Burt Ballanfant and Mardi Turner — were on swept into office in Saturday’s municipal election by strong opposition to the land swap. They will take office in early June.

They had campaigned against the Super Block and collected signatures on a petition to force a public vote on financing a part of the land swap.

Opponents of the Super Block, the land deal with West U Baptist and the $3 million in new city debt to finance a part of the deal had praised the council’s decisions on May 4 to table action on those proposals.

Fry said the real estate negotiations to be considered Thursday includes a swap of city-owned land at 3826 Milton St. for church-owned property on Amherst St. The Milton property currently houses the city’s Public Works Maintenance Facility, which would be moved to the city’s former RecyclExpress property located on Dincans St. near Westpark.

Although the city had planned to issue $3 million in certificates of obligation to finance that move, opponents collected 946 signatures on a petition to force a public vote on the additional city debt.

Fry said the agenda “does” include the Milton St. property. Asked how the city could finance the cost of moving the Public Works maintenance facility, Fry said: “It will have to go to a vote of the voters at the next election, which will be in November.”

The opposition slate was particularly perplexed by the notice of the council’s special meeting, since the West U Baptist Church has filed a request for “an exception or modification” from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to build its new Youth Center on its own property located at 3821 and 3831 Amherst.

City staff received that request on Thursday, May 7, according to documents filed with the city.

In its application, the church states that the new Youth Ministry building will be “visually compatible with existing residential structures” and the new building’s “footprint” would be very close to the two residential properties now located there.

The council may meet in closed executive session, for the purpose of meeting with attorney Reid Wilson, who has been working on the real estate negotiations for the city, to get legal advice or to discuss the value or transfer of real estate.

Kelly said Monday that the slate opposed to the Super Block was studying the agenda.

“We’re puzzled,” Kelly said. “It sounds like they are going to approve the land swap. That would be very alarming to a lot of people.

“When I first heard about this, I thought that between the election and the petition, they (the current council) would just close up shop and go home,” Kelly said.

Turner said, “I am simply mystified as to what they are going to do.”

Reilly, who spearheaded the petition drive to force a public vote on financing the $3 million in new city debt, said, “I would be very surprised if they go through with this. They really are putting a finger in the eye of the voters.”

Any action or vote on the issue must take place in an open, public meeting, under Texas’ Open Meetings law. The agenda for the meeting does not include a time for public comments.