Parking lot plan mowed down
What a difference a month — and a few nasty notes from city and Dallas ISD officials — makes.
On Thursday, Dallas’ Park and Recreation Board voted against pouring concrete over a small sliver of city-owned parkland for a 22-spot teachers-only parking lot across from Woodrow Wilson High School, where cars are being displaced by construction at the East Dallas landmark.
That’s the opposite of what the board voted for Nov. 2, when a majority of its 15 members signed off on the Dallas Independent School District’s request to pave over a patch of Randall Park grass at the corner of South Glasgow Drive and Columbia Avenue.
Dozens of folks who live near the crowded, beloved high school socked in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood packed the park board conference room Thursday to plead their cases. There were good arguments on both sides, from those who want teachers’ cars off their congested streets, and from those who can’t stomach the thought of pouring concrete
over the few blades of grass remaining at Randall Park, most of which is a gated athletic complex.
In the end, park board members who’d previously voted for the lot said they’d changed their minds after some soul-searching. Among them was Becky Rader, council member Mark Clayton’s appointee and the board member who’d been pro-parking lot until, midnovember, she called for the do-over.
“I am here to protect green open space,” she said. “Not ... to make parking spaces for the school.”
The parking lot agreement was on the council’s to-do list next week. The mayor’s office said it will be deleted from the agenda. But the issue is not dead. Nor is the lingering bitterness it stirred up after East Dallas council member Philip Kingston started snarling at the school district on social media, comparing DISD to The Simpsons’ conniving billionaire Monty Burns, and Woodrow’s school board member, Dustin Marshall, bit back with accusations of “fake news.”
“This is why people hate City Hall,” Park Board president Bobby Abtahi said Thursday, lamenting the infusion of politics into a parks debate while addressing a meeting room overstuffed with irritated neighbors.
City officials are now concerned something much larger is at risk than a tiny bit of parkland that’s either used all the time or going to waste, depending on which Woodrow neighbor you talk to.
The city and the district are eyeing a joint-use agreement that would let Dallas use school playgrounds “for neighborhood park and public uses.” Parks officials have been discussing the proposal with DISD for more than a year, after yet another poor showing in the Trust for Public Land’s annual Parkscore rankings that showed some 40 percent of Dallas residents don’t live within a 10-minute walk of a place to play.
The agreement between DISD and City Hall was supposed to go to the school board next week. But the posted agenda shows it was pulled at the administration’s request. Willis Winters, director of Park and Recreation, said he thought the deal would “fly through.” But it’s stalled. And he’s surprised. “Very surprised.”
City officials I spoke with said the timing’s just coincidental. Then I was given a whole bunch of different reasons for the hold-up. Some had to do with the district, which, by the way, put $500,000 into Randall Park years ago. Some had to do with two park board members who Winters said Thursday “were not enthused” about the proposed agreement.
So I asked Marshall — who, full disclosure, is trustee for my son’s high school — after Thursday’s vote: Will the Randall Park vote affect the agreement? He said commenting on it would be “premature” before it goes to the board, whenever that happens. He also said elected officials shouldn’t be emotional about their decisions.
But he did say that he was “frustrated” by Thursday’s outcome, and that “I think this became a political discussion rather than a factual discussion.” That doesn’t bode well after he and Kingston, who supported Marshall’s opponent in the most recent DISD board election, got into it on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.
Kingston has made it clear where he stands, publicly and privately. In a Nov. 1 email sent to, among others, his park board appointee, Paul Sims, he wrote that “this plan is 100% created by DISD to address a temporary Disdcaused problem . ... We do not pave over park land for parking.”
That is consistent with previous statements and actions by the City Council, which has always been reluctant to sacrifice parkland for parking lots no matter how small, underused or brown that green space might be. I reminded Marshall that only last year, the council told Quiktrip to take a hike when it wanted to pour a nice trailhead connected to a parking lot along a strip of grass along Bachman Lake that doesn’t remotely resemble a park but somehow is. He wasn’t moved.
“I would not equate a private for-profit company’s need to that of teachers,” he said.
Abtahi said later that, yeah, he’s concerned Thursday’s vote could impact DISD’S decision to sign that agreement to let the city use school playgrounds. Said it’s “kept me awake at night a couple of times.” Because DISD was asking for a corner lot, in a park it helped pay for, and the city said no.
Maybe they could all just settle it the old-school way: in the parking lot.