Park­ing lot plan mowed down

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - ROBERT WILONSKY rwilon­sky@dal­las­

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.

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