Secret meeting about new parkland, other council actions

By Charlotte Aguilar

Nearly a decade after West U voters approved a $2 million bond for parkland acquisition – and with the funding set to expire next year – City Council has asked for a new assessment of potential properties meeting the city’s strict park guidelines.

Councilmembers Burt Ballanfant and Mardi Turner, both longtime supporters of West U buying the so-called “Ownby tract” in the 3600 block of Pittsburgh at Poor Farm Ditch, listed an item on Monday’s agenda to discuss “matters related to the value or transfer of real property or other real estate matters.”

That wording qualified the issue for a closed-door executive session.

When the mayor and councilmembers emerged, there was no mention of Ownby. Instead, the council voted to ask Tim O’Connor, parks and recreation director, to bring back a study to them in two weeks that identifies prospective properties between Buffalo Speedway and Edloe Street, as well as how the $2 million bond funding could be used before authorization runs out.

Most recently, the Ownby property has been on the market for $3.6 million, and estimates run between $7-10 million to develop it for public use.

In a 2014 survey about parks, West U residents were lukewarm about buying more parkland, and sentiment was overwhelming that private funding should be secured for parks acquisition and development.

While councilmembers raised questions about the parks master plan and the bond, Mayor Susan Sample had a more basic interest: “We need to make sure it’s what people really want,” she said, alluding to high turnover in the city since 2006. “Our park survey said that it wasn’t.”

There’s another study in store for West U — a citizen-driven one about city facilities.

Councilman Brennan Reilly was successful – over Sample’s concerns – in gaining council approval to form a new citizens facilities master plan task force. Acting City Manager Chris Peifer indicated he would adjust the standard boards and commissions application form for the new group, which will be appointed by council.

Reilly asked that publicizing the task force and interviews start as soon as possible.

The discussion turned contentious when Sample sought to have assessment of the library considered by a separate task force and accused Reilly of “encroaching” on one of her favorite issues. “I’m not saying I want it rebuilt,” Sample said, “but right now it’s failing our residents.”

She cited concerns about Americans With Disabilities Act compliance, asbestos, and code violations.

Reilly countered by asking Sample when she had last checked out a book in the West U library.

In other action, the City Council:

  • Learned from Finance Director Rhonda Daugherty that the city had received a tax roll totaling $5.4 billion from the Harris County Appraisal District. That amount included new property appraised at $81 million.
  • Adopted a resolution declaring that next year’s property tax rate would not exceed 33.571 cents for each $100 of assessed value and set public hearings on the tax rate and budget for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 5 and 12.
  • Heard a lengthy report and residents’ views about flooding in the city – most specifically in West U’s lowest point, the 3800 block of Southwestern Street, where homes filled with water during extreme storms in April and May. The report indicated that residents’ requests to add two inlets won’t stop the flooding but could alleviate it. The council asked to have staff prepare figures that could be considered during final budget deliberations next month.
West U City Council files out for an executive session about "real estate matters" dealing with parkland acquisition Monday night.

West U City Council files out for an executive session about “real estate matters” dealing with parkland acquisition Monday night.

Mayor Susan Sample and Councilman Brennan Reilly, right, battled over Reilly's proposal to create a citizens facilities master plan task force and Sample's insistence that the library be evaluated by a separate task force. After a vote, Reilly prevailed.

Mayor Susan Sample and Councilman Brennan Reilly, right, battled over Reilly’s proposal to create a citizens facilities master plan task force and Sample’s insistence that the library be evaluated by a separate task force. After a vote, Reilly prevailed.

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