Other Accomplishments And News In The Decade
As the first decade of the 2000s came and went, West University Place was marked by exploding property values, infrastructure renewal and a brand-new executive staff.
But other accomplishments and major news stories also made their marks. The city improved many parks around town and broke ground on the new Recreation Center and Colonial Park Pool. Businesses opened and closed, murders and an execution made headlines, and a West U. sports team won a world championship game.
“One of the big changes has been the quality of the parks,” said Councilman George Boehme. He said the parks have been “like our backyard” for his family and other residents whose homes are on small lots without much play space.
When Parks and Recreation Director Tim O’Connor joined the city staff in 2004, one of his first tasks was to fully assess the parks system. He found many green spaces with outdated facilities and amenities.
“They were failing,” O’Connor said.
The study lead him to suggest a five-year parks renewal plan that was embraced by the Friends of West University Place Parks, a fundraising group. So far, Weir Park and Huffington Park have benefited from substantial renovations. Next year the new Recreation Center will get a new playground, and next on the list are Judson, Whitt Johnson and Colonial Parks.
“If we do our jobs right, we’ll have about four years until we start the process over again,” O’Connor said, adding that many park amenities have a 10-year shelf life. “I’m extremely proud. I think everyone in the department is proud.”
Another major accomplishment was the city proposing and voters passing a $13.8-million bond program to construct the new Recreation Center and Colonial Park Pool. Both facilities are set to open in 2010.
The parks department also expanded the number of community events, adding a classical concert series, movies in the park, the annual Fathers and Flashlights event and more.
“We’ve just taken it up to a new level,” said Susan White, administrative manager.
Major news stories
Two murders touched West U. late in the decade. In July 2009, two young adults who had grown up in West U. and attended Lamar High School were murdered in Austin. John Goosey, 21, and Stacy Barnett, 22, were allegedly shot to death by Richard “Ricky” Thompson. Police believe Thompson shot the couple because he owed Goosey $8,000 for marijuana he had purchased to resell.
A killer was put to death in June 2006 for the murder of another West U. resident. The “Railroad Killer,” Angel Resendez, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of physician Claudia Benton. In Dec. 1998 Resendez had raped, stabbed and bludgeoned 39-year-old Benton after breaking into her home, which was close to the Union Pacific railroad tracks. Resendez admitted to serial killings spanning years along railroad tracks in Texas. According to news reports, in his final statements the killer said, “I know I allowed the devil to rule my life … I deserve what I am getting.”
Other major news about the railroad tracks shocked West U. residents in July 2007. Four railroad cars carrying wheat and corn derailed from the tracks and skidded into the backyard of homes in the 5600 block of Community Drive. Luckily, no one was injured but the accident raised questions about the safety of the tracks. Some residents said they had suspected for years the tracks were damaged or improperly maintained.
Again, regarding the railroad, West U. in July 2006 joined Houston and Bellaire to successfully set up quiet zones along the tracks. Trains became prohibited from blowing their horns at 14 railroad crossings, unless the conductors saw something blocking their pathways. Two West U. residents had started working to install quiet zones in 2002, leading to the impressive cooperation between the three cities. Recalls City Manager Michael Ross: “To be first in the country to establish that quiet zone like that under the new legislation was huge. And for three cities to work together like we did was huge.”
Some West U. residents’ lives were devastated in 2001 with the collapse of the energy company Enron. Residents who worked at the company lost their jobs and possibly major investments when the company went bankrupt. Says Councilman Steven Segal: “An unusual number of high-priced homes went on the market after that.” Adds Councilman George Boehme: “It was a devastating couple of years for some people. But the ones I know who lived here in West U. bounced back great … It’s past history, what effect it’s had on the City of West U.”
The beloved JMH Grocery Store closed in Dec. 2007, much to the dismay of residents who had patronized the 60-year-old store for multiple generations. The store is vacant to this day, although Amegy Bank has come and gone. Most recently, in Nov. 2009 Texas Citizens Bank announced it has leased part of the building for a new branch location. Says Boehme, who also owns a business on Edloe Street: “We need to make a more favorable climate for desirable businesses. Right now we don’t have that.”
One of the more uplifting stories from the first decade of the new century was that the West University Little League Senior Division won the Senior League World Championship in Aug. 2009. The team beat rivals from California with a 9-7 win. The entire city of West U. celebrated later with a parade through town.