Tue April 22, 2014
A Little League Sports Complex is Causing a Major Ruckus in Westlake
After three years, Eanes school officials and residents are still deadlocked over a proposed sports complex.
In 2011, Eanes ISD board members agreed to lease 50 acres of district land to the nonprofit Western Hills Little League. The league agreed to pay $10,000 annually for the first four years, and then $50,000 annually (adjusted for inflation), for the remainder of the 50-year lease.
In return, Eanes ISD would receive a portion of the complex's revenue and have access to the facilities: eight baseball fields, four football sized fields, concessions facilities, and an indoor facility for basketball, swimming, and gymnastics.
But from the beginning, the proposal hasn’t set well with some neighbors. The Westlake Neighborhood Alliance was created to oppose the project.
"In the two years from its creation, [the organization] has quickly and organically grown into close to 1,000 area residents and 10 neighborhood HOA's and neighborhood associations," says outreach coordinator Susan Silberman.
Western Hills Little League president Chris Ellis doesn’t understand the fuss. He says that the area needs the facilities, and that Westlake residents have to drive long distances to access youth sports fields. He says the project is bringing the Westlake community a welcome service – and adds that residents knew that the land would eventually be developed when they moved to the neighborhood.
Westlake Neighborhood Alliance member Lewis Talbert counters that the problem is not the development of the site itself, but the scale of the project and its location in an ecologically sensitive area. The proposed complex would also create traffic congestion and light pollution Silberman says. “The location is on a hill, and once that light pollution is there, there is no reversing it.”
On top of neighbors’ discontent, the deal between Western Hills Little League and Eanes is being challenged in court.
Westlake Neighborhood Alliance member Lewis Talbert is a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit challenging the legality of the contract. Last October, a district judge dismissed related claims filed against Eanes ISD, citing sovereign immunity that protects certain public entities against lawsuits. Now Talbert and his co-plaintiffs are suing some individual members of the school board for their role in the deal.
This group isn’t the only one confronting the district. Recently two former Eanes ISD board presidents started a campaign against the $89.5 bond initiative that will be included on the May elections ballot.
Still, while lawyers representing Eanes ISD acknowledge the negotiations with neighbors, they say the opposition doesn't reflect overall community opinion. "While some homeowners have initiated litigation against the district because of concerns about traffic and lighting, the community in general has expressed support for the project," said a written statement.
Meanwhile, Ellis says Western Hills Little League has joined with other local sports organizations, including Westlake's Pop Warner football league. He says the group is currently securing building permits, but a date for breaking ground hasn't been scheduled yet.