A standing-room only crowd is expected Tuesday night when developers try to sell East Dallas residents on their plan to build a restaurant in White Rock Lake Park. So far, opposition from those living near the lake has been loud and far outweighs any visible community support.
The first inklings of a showdown began several weeks ago when signs began showing up in yards around White Rock Lake warning against the conversion of two-and-a-half acres of park property to a site for a restaurant.
The sign planted in Stephan Ingrum’s front yard a block from the water advertises a website: SaveBoysSoutHill.org. A petition on the website has signatures from more than 2,300 who want to stop the restaurant in its tracks.
“I’m not really concerned about my land value as much as the gem that is the land out there,” Ingrum said. “No company or corporation or even individual has a right to take away the land at any cost.”
Boy Scout Hill is a grassy open area with a pavilion that’s intersected by the hike-bike trail. It overlooks the lake at the northeast corner of the 15-acre park.
Conservationists say it’s one of North Texas’ last remaining remnants of native, blackland prairie and should be preserved.
A "horrible idea," one resident says
Leslie Briones, whose family has fired up a grill for a cookout in the park, agrees.
“I think you should leave it open," she said. "You come here to get the nature and I think a restaurant would mess it up."
Brooke Dudgeon feels the same way. She took a break from her bike ride to say she plans to speak out against the restaurant at the meeting with developers.
“I’m very opposed to it,” she said of the restaurant. “I think it’s a horrible idea. The best part of living here is driving out and seeing the beautiful sunset over the lake. It’s amazing. There are plenty of places to eat.”
There are supporters
But some White Rock patrons like Josh Norwood think it would be great to have a place in the park where you could grab some food.
“I think it would be cool especially if they served healthy dishes or smoothies so you could get something after your work out,” he said.
Building support from others like Norwood is the uphill task in front of the restaurant developers -- attorney Richard Kopf and architect Lyle Burgin.
Following a storm of passionate opposition they’ve hired a public relations firm and declined to do a recorded radio interview in advance of the community meeting.
Burgin, who’s helped design other restaurants, says the White Rock restaurant would include indoor and outdoor seating where you could watch the sun set. Dinner entrees would cost $12 to $25, while lunches would be cheaper.
There would be a parking lot with 160 spaces shielded by native grasses and natural surfaces. A portion of the profits from the restaurant would be donated to a fund that would support other projects and needs at White Rock Lake.
Developers will need community support
Gerry Worrell, the Dallas Park Board Member representing the White Rock area, says it’s important to discuss new ideas for the park. But he adds that it will be crucial for developers to win the backing of community members if they want the restaurant to move forward.
“This is something that doesn’t seem to have enough merit for the city to really go to war over,” Worrell said.
Worrell says the 1987 Management Plan for White Rock Lake Park allows for the sale of food, but places a higher priority on natural areas.
He points to page 12, which states: "[U]se of current ‘open space’ park land for the addition of new facilities … is strongly discouraged and is generally considered inappropriate for White Rock Lake Park."
A key endorsement for developers would be the approval of the White Rock Lake Task Force, which includes area residents and park support groups.
“Our philosophy is to encourage those activities and those projects that are compatible with a natural environment at the lake and discourage those that are not,” task force chairman Michael Jung said.
Jung says the city has never moved forward with a project the group has opposed. While the task force hasn’t taken a formal position on the restaurant, members unanimously rejected it when they took a straw vote last month.