End in sight: West U Zoning board grants AT&T request


Audio of the meeting 

It wasn’t exactly the Battle of the Titans, but one group of West U neighbors is cheering, another sulking — and a West U council member unsuccessfully tried to influence the outcome of the decision of an independent citizen board.

After a unanimous vote at the Sept. 22 meeting of West U’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, it looks like the battle between AT&T and a small collection of angry residents may have come to an end.

The 5-0 vote, after a four-hour meeting, granted AT&T something called a “special exception.” This designation will allow AT&T to continue to work in much the same way as it has for decades.

But the hearing was not without drama. West U Councilmember Brennan Reilly addressed the ZBA and told members  it was illegal for them to discuss the issue before them. Reilly instructed the ZBA to go into executive session to receive advice from the city attorney. He also asked the ZBA not to grant the special exception.

After a question to the city attorney from ZBA member (and University of Houston law professor) Christopher Heard, the city attorney advised that Reilly was wrong on his interpretation of the law and that the meeting was legally permissible.

Last year, a resident complained that the building official had been incorrectly interpreting the zoning laws to allow AT&T to place a dumpster in a parking district, and for allowing delivery trucks to reach their loading dock by driving through its parking district.

It turned out the resident was legally correct. So AT&T was ordered to move the dumpster to, and access the loading dock from, the abutting commercially zoned property.

But that change set an alarm off for a new set of residents. The second group protested that the required changes were much worse than the status quo.

Why? Because AT&T was forced to move the dumpster closer to homes and to reach the loading dock by having the delivery trucks backing in from Academy Street.

attSo the offended group of neighbors asked AT&T to make the Sept. 22 request to the ZBA and ask to continue with AT&T’s previous layout — the dumpster distanced from the homes and giving forward-driving truck access to the loading dock, so trucks don’t back-in from Academy Street. The five members of the ZBA panel agreed with the request.

The members of the ZBA panel who voted on this matter are West U residents Heard, Ed Sobash, Ed Nikonowicz, Don Yurewicz and Neil Martin. The ZBA is a quasi-judicial body that hears appeals from administrative decisions, grants special exceptions and variances, and interprets the intent of the zoning ordinance.

As a condition of its approval, the ZBA set extra restrictions for the continued operation of the AT&T facility.

The new restrictions include:
•No “big rig” trucks
•Masonry eight-foot fence around entire parking lot
•Opaque gate systems
•Additional landscaping, with irrigation

Outstanding lawsuit
There is an outstanding lawsuit over AT&T’s ability to load its service vans in the parking district. A recent ruling of the ZBA requires AT&T to load service vans at the loading dock.

But the existing lawsuit may be moot — the ZBA’s ruling requires the parking district to have an eight-foot masonry fence and opaque gates, so neighbors might not care about where on the sheltered property AT&T load their service vans.