Mayor Turner faces edgy crowd over plan to move Sunnyside Center

April 18, 2017 GMT

Mayor Sylvester Turner faced an edgy crowd Monday night at the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center during a boisterous town hall about plans to move the facility and a city clinic to Sunnyside Park beside a former dump.

The defunct Bellfort Landfill sits on 300 acres bounded by Bellfort, Texas 288, Reed Road and Comal. Sunnyside Park is in the northwest corner of those boundaries. The existing multi-service center is less than two miles away on Cullen at Wilmington.

An increasingly vocal and organized opposition troubled about potential contamination at the proposed site has formed over the last few months, with community leaders airing their concerns at city council meetings. The red-and-white signs of that group were planted Monday evening along the perimeter of the center prior to the two-hour meeting attended by about 200 people.

Monday was the first time city officials visited the community to address the center upgrade with information from a current environmental assessment. The latest study was completed and released this month on Sunnyside Park. Prior assessments tested the landfill property in 2004 and 2010.

“The final analysis was that no further analysis was needed and that the park was clean,” Turner said.

Last week, only the executive summary was posted online and the city was billing for requests for the full report. As of Monday evening, the entire 460 pages appear online in a free document.

Turner said the city has planned spend $25 million to rebuild the center and clinic at Sunnyside Park.

“This facility, these two disconnected buildings, they’re in a very sad state of disrepair. They are very costly,” he said in opening remarks. “This is not about trying to force anything on you. I only have once concern … what’s in the best interest of those of you in Sunnyside.”

There was verbal jousting between constituents and city officials for much of the meeting as well as disagreement about environmental testing methods.

Tahir Charles, an environmental engineer working with the opposition group, said the study was sound but questioned the time frame.

“Something as large as this, we have to monitor this. If you go back and look at the 2010, their recommendation said the site needs to be monitored. For us to come and test it now, that’s not doing us a favor.”

Travis McGee, a barber, business owner and the area’s civic club president, urged officials to be against the move.

“We want a new building here,” he said. “There is nothing over there but the dump.”

Houston Health department director Stephen Williams said his agency’s employees could provide better services in a new building. He expressed concerns about relocating services during a rebuild or renovation at the current site.With a new center at Sunnyside Park, services could continue on Cullen during construction, he said.

DeWayne Lark, a political activist, told the mayor that information about the Sunnyside center upgrade was presented about six months late to residents. He referred to the Cullen commercial district as Sunnyside’s “Wall Street” and said the area could be enhanced by an improved multi-service center.

“Most of the people don’t want the facility moved to any other area than this. We know that this particular spot here is hot for redevelopment,” he said to the loudest applause of the night. “I believe this can be a win-win for the developers, a win-win for the politicians and a win-win for the people.”