Waco: Neighborhood meeting on development gets heated

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)
(Photo by Rissa Shaw)(KWTX)
Published: Sep. 25, 2018 at 12:06 AM CDT
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A meeting intended to provide an update on development in East Waco turned heated Monday night.

The North East Riverside Neighborhood Association, Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, and City Center Waco, a non-profit liaison between the city and the community regarding development, hosted the public meeting to promote “responsible development” along Elm Ave.

"The neighborhood has the opportunity to be an active part in decision making about what happens next,” said Megan Henderson, Executive Director, City Center Waco.

Henderson tried to field questions from the crowd, but much of the meeting was hijacked by upset residents who felt they were not a part of the process and weren’t receiving their ‘piece of the pie.’

“If you don’t include us, there will be a problem,” said longtime resident A'Drana Gooden. “What will this city do for us?”

"We have the eyes and ears of this community and the best interest of this community, and we at least need to know what's going on over here,” said another resident.

Although many East Waco residents have pushed for development in the area, which city officials admit has gone under-served for years, many of them now have fears about the “threats” the projects could bring.

"Is this going to affect the elderly, the disabled, the people that's on a monthly income, the hard-working people that already don’t take enough home as it is?” asked one resident about the potential for higher taxes.

One man became angry and walked-out of the meeting saying he had a bad experience with the city in the past over building a house in the area.

"All this talk you do all day long doesn't mean anything until we start holding people accountable!" he said.

Mayor Kyle Deaver said he wasn’t surprised by some of the strong reactions and skepticism.

"You've got a group of people that have been historically under-served, and I understand why they would be somewhat concerned and distrustful,” said Deaver. “It's disappointing we haven't been able to make more progress in that area, and we obviously have a lot of work to do."

Incoming projects include ones from the city, TxDOT, and private developers.

Citizens like Rocky Miller worry they’ll be pushed out of the picture.

"There needs to be a more concerted effort so that everyone in the community has a voice on what the future of East Waco looks like,” said Miller. “The role of the people who live here needs to be addressed, the people that are already here deserve everything that you (officials) wish for for these (incoming) people.”

City council member Andrea Barefield, who represents East Waco as the Dist. 1 seat, addressed concerns about gentrification.

“To gentrify means to change, what we're hoping to avoid, and what our goal is to avoid, is negative gentrification where people are displaced out of their homes or driven-out by development,” said Barefield. “So what we're trying to do is develop policy that is inclusionary and that will benefit both development and our long-term residents."

Deaver seconded the intentions.

“The city really is working on inclusive development and we have a lot of things that are in the works that are not ready to be released yet because we’ve got to work on what’s legal and what we can do that will help, but it’s a challenge,” said Deaver. “I think one of the best things that I heard tonight was ‘get involved in your neighborhood association’ because that really is one of the best ways for citizens to have input with city government.”

While some residents felt they’d been excluded from the process, others stressed the need for involvement, reminding the crowd about the lack of community participation leading up to this point, saying they needed to take some responsibility.

“We came here for some civil understanding to move ahead, all that’s been going on tonight should not be going on,” said Larry Brown, former leader of the local NAACP. “We’re not paying attention – Wake up! Wake up!”

Several others also spoke up saying there’s been many public meetings along the way which people have not attended.

“Megan (City Center Waco) has been there, the county has been there, the city has been there, but the residents do not come out,” said a resident.

City and state officials including Deaver, Barefield, and Rep. Doc Anderson were listening to the crowds’ concerns for about two hours.

Barefield said they were heard loud and clear.

"Tonight they mentioned banks, pharmacies, things a community needs to thrive and survive, and those are things we should be looking to incentivize more,” she said. “Nothing’s going to happen overnight, we’re doing our homework right now because I’ve always said ‘measure twice, cut once.’”

The meeting ended with City Center Waco creating “work groups” comprised of community members supported by staff to “tackle the biggest issues and report back.”