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Oak Hill groups give Cole differing opinions on local issues
Friday, June 4, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves
The Oak Hill business community wanted to make it clear to Council Member Sheryl Cole at lunch yesterday: The environmental community does not speak for us.
Of course, there was a codicil offered: The Oak Hill business community also doesn’t speak for some, or even most, of the homeowners in the area, either.
No wonder Cole is a bit confused about just where she should land on the issues that are important to Oak Hill: the town center in the neighborhood plan; the solution to the road project known as the “Y;” and completion of State Highway 45 SW.
“The hardest part of being a Council member is figuring out what people want – especially where there are two sides of an issue – and bringing them together and moving them forward,” Cole told the Oak Hill Business and Professional Association during a luncheon meeting. “I assumed with that resolution, where you brought others in, that you stand as a unified voice.”
The resolution that Cole referenced was one the three groups in Oak Hill – the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, OHBPA and the contact team for the neighborhood plan – could agree upon, and that was the need to bring local property owners to the table to discuss the town center.
Justice of the Peace Susan Steeg, however, disabused Cole of her assumption that consensus was even a possibility in Oak Hill. She pointed out that Oak Hill is diverse; different viewpoints were likely to never agree; and leaders like Cole were elected to make important decisions, with or without resolutions or votes.
“I don’t remember taking a vote when they put MoPac in,” Steeg said. “You’re not going to have unanimity.”
Business leaders in Oak Hill generally support roads and the town center. Unfortunately for OHBPA, however, the neighborhood contact team is now under the control of people who oppose improvements to the intersection of US 290W and SH 71, which is referred to as the “Y.”
Sandy Baldridge, president of OHAN and a member of the Zoning and Platting Commission, said business owners in the area are growing tired of those who continually say “no” without giving a second thought to what might be a viable compromise for all stakeholders in the neighborhood.
The town center in the Oak Hill neighborhood plan, in fact, remains a blank on the page with no direction or zoning, a place where Cole admitted there simply had been no sufficient compromise. Baldridge told Cole that she had met with city staff on the town center issue recently and was told, rather candidly, that an invitation from city staff was not enough to get landowners to the table. Cole understood.
“It comes down to what do they want to do and what will they pay for,” Cole said, noting she could bring landowners to the table for a discussion but she couldn’t force agreement or compliance. “We have to make the decision, but we have absolutely no control over private property owners. And we don’t want to arm twist something that you clearly don’t want.”
Among this group, consensus was overrated on a number of grounds. Charles Draper, president of OHBPA, said it was often the minority who ruled the majority. In his own 1,500-home neighborhood association, where Draper once served as president, about 10 percent of the residents would show up at annual meetings to take crucial votes. That left a distinct minority in charge of the opinion of the majority, which rarely produced balanced results, Draper said.
The “Y” also continues to be an issue. Gary Gentry, a local realtor, told the group in earlier comments that the Texas Department of Transportation could not be blamed for all the traffic woes that had befallen Oak Hill.
“Many of us in here know that TxDOT was ready and willing to move forward if we had had the local support,” said Gentry, noting that opposition had drowned out local preference in the issue of the “Y.” “We have to continue to keep this at the top of the priority list. Others have had their voice heard at a louder, and more persuasive, level, and we need to bring this at a really high crescendo.”
As to SH 45 SW, Cole noted that she stood with the majority of CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board, which voted in favor of keeping the road project in the CAMPO 2035 plan. Passing the road project was not a hard decision, Cole said. The question of where the money will come from to fund the project is much harder.
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