ABOVE: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner addresses Sunnyside residents at town hall as District D Council Member Dwight Boykins looks on
“We’re Not Going to Fall Out Over This…The Choice is Yours”
This past Monday evening, several red and white signs lined the sidewalks of the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center stating:
“Don’t Move The Sunnyside Multi-Service Center To The Old Landfill”
For months, the proposed plans to move the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center and Sunnyside Health Center from its current location at 9314 Cullen, to a site near a former landfill site in the northwest part of a 300-acre piece of land located off of Highway 288 near Reed Rd., has become an extremely contentious and emotional issue for many in the Sunnyside area.
That contention continued this past Monday evening, when Mayor Sylvester Turner found himself facing a tough crowd of people seeking answers at a town hall meeting he convened.
The standing room only meeting of over 200 residents, city employees and attendees, featured many individuals seeking answers from the mayor concerning the plans he announced this past December, stating that the city would combine the existing Sunnyside Multi-Service Center and the existing Sunnyside Health Center operations into a single, 60,000-square-foot Sunnyside Multi-Service Center and Health Center facility near Sunnyside Park. Turner also indicated that he would meet with the community once he got the results back from a new environmental study on the proposed site of the new facility and on Sunnyside Park.
For many of those in opposition, the primary issue has been the concern that the land the proposed new facility is being moved to – located 1.9 miles away from its current location – is near a former landfill site that has a history of contamination. Prior to the recent request by Turner to do a new environmental study on the site, several environmental evaluations had been performed from as early on as 2004, indicated that the waste from the former landfill site was “still generating methane gas” and that “methane concentrations in ambient air were detected.”
This has been a huge sticking point for many people in the Sunnyside community, and is what prompted Turner to request a new environmental assessment from a new company.
The recent environmental study, performed from February 14 to March 1 by Terrain Solutions Inc., consisted of doing sediment, air and surface water sample testing, and found that “no concentrations of the suspected contaminants in the tested media that exceeded health standards.”
In Turner’s presentation, he addressed some key areas of concern, as well as shared his overview of what a move to the new location versus staying in the current location would look like over the course of the next two years. Turner also told attendees the city had posted the results of the study online, and that they were seeking to be transparent with the community about the overall findings of the environmental study, which he indicated cost the city $50,000.
“If you choose to stay here, I’ll be good with that, but you’ll end up with less than you have today,” said Mayor Turner. “Understand though that the total cost will be $25 million, will take approximately two years and there has to be a place to provide those services.”
Turner, was of course, referencing the estimated project budget of $25 million that the city has set aside from its Capital Improvement Project dollars to complete the new Sunnyside Multi-Service Center facility. The exact estimated project budget is $24,915,000.
One of the other important topics of discussion was how the Sunnyside Health Center would function and how the services would continue at the current location, if a new location were to be built at the current site versus the new location. Mayor Turner stated that it would cut into the overall $25 million budget if the city had to move the Sunnyside Health Center to another temporary location while that current location was being renovated.
Turner also emphasized to the attendees that he was not going to force a decision on the Sunnyside community, but stated that he would not make a final decision until he reached out to get the feedback from as many of the senior citizens, churches, community leaders and residents in Sunnyside, who were unable to be in attendance at the town hall meeting.
“We are not going to fall out over this,” said Turner. “There are too many other issues that will come before us, and I just want you all to make a decision based on all the information you receive and the facts I shared with you.”
While there were a few lone voices in support of the mayor’s plan at the meeting, it was clear that the majority of attendees at the town hall meeting were in opposition to the plan to move the facility to the new site. Several of the attendees were not buying the environmental testing results, and waited until Turner finished his presentation and opened up the floor for comments and questions, to express themselves.
Many attendees, several of which were scattered around the room holding up the red and white signs that lined the sidewalks leading into the town hall meeting, took to the microphone to share their views on how they felt the city should move forward with the proposed project.
“Councilman, you mentioned in the December and January 2017 council meetings that the current Sunnyside Multi-Service Center is unsafe and needs to be torn down,” said Tahir Charles, an environmental engineer who has been amongst the most vocal in opposition of the proposed plan to move the facility to the new site. ” As an environmental professional, I wanted to see the engineering reports that support your bold statement, so I requested an open records request through the City of Houston and the response was there are no such records to support those claims of the building being unsafe. Your presentation must match your representation.”
Charles further emphasized that he is critical about the overall findings of the new environmental report, because the proposed location had only been tested one time instead of the continual monitoring needed before making the final decision so quickly.
Sandra Massie Hines, affectionately known by many as the honorary Mayor of Sunnyside, stated that she took pictures of the proposed area and saw substance oozing from the landfill site in January, and also states that the majority of Sunnyside residents are opposed to the move.
“Transportation will be an issue for these seniors,” said Hines. “This is the business district for the seniors and moving it would be an inconvenience to them. We refuse to let anyone just remove us from our sanctuary, so to speak, and place us at the top of an old landfill and former dump site, without us exercising our right to speak up and share our consensus about the issue.”
While Turner did not give any timetable on when he will be making his final decision, he did lay out his case and indicated that it will be his final decision to make once he meets with all parties.
Relative to this issue, it appears the one thing the majority of residents in the Sunnyside community appear to have the biggest issue with is that community input was lacking and they were not fully involved in the decision making process that is conducive for the community about this potential move.
Mayor Turner left all attendees with his final take on the issue, in wrapping up the town hall.
“When we leave here, and if your decision is NOT to move to the new location, just remember that the final decision you make will be your decision and not mines,” said Turner.
The Forward Times will continue to follow this issue closely and keep our readers up-to-date on the latest happenings surrounding the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center.