West U sued by Fortune 50 company
West University Place was served with a lawsuit from corporate mega-giant AT&T earlier this week.
This lawsuit was not unexpected and is the latest chapter in a battle between a handful of neighbors on Ruskin and Cason streets and AT&T, one of West University Place’s first businesses, at 4068 Bellaire Blvd. AT&T alleges that a recent action by the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment is “illegal and void.”
At issue was six residential lots that had been granted a special exception in the 1970s to be used as parking for company vehicles. The first building at the site opened in the 1930s.
Residents alleged at the ZBA hearing that the business had morphed into a “warehouse” facility, with scores of commercial vans and trucks coming and going six days a week to deliver Uverse and Direct TV equipment.
The city’s planning official and city attorney said the city’s zoning ordinance allowed AT&T to load and unload trucks in the parking district. The city attorney agreed and wrote an opinion reflecting that interpretation.
A resident challenged the opinion of the city planning department and the city attorney by filing an appeal with the ZBA. The ZBA reversed the ruling by the city staff.
The ZBA is a statutory requirement in Home Rule cities like West U. It is a five-member appointed, volunteer board whose actions are not subject to review by the city council.
The board is a quasi-judicial body that hears appeals from administrative decisions, grants special exceptions and variances, and interprets the intent of the zoning ordinance. An affected party has the right to appeal the decision directly to State District Court, and AT&T did that.
ZBA actions are some of the few municipal decisions that are not subject to any review by the city council.
The city is not the defendant in lawsuits of this type; the defendant is “The Zoning Board of Adjustment of the City of West University Place, Texas.” However, the ZBA has no budget or litigation authority. So decisions about the litigation and any related costs are decided by the city council and the associated costs are borne by West U taxpayers.