A proposed deck park over Interstate 35 connecting the Dallas Zoo to central Oak Cliff could unify a neighborhood torn apart when that highway was built.
That’s according to its supporters, most of whom live west of I-35. But at City Hall Wednesday, dissenting voices from the east side of 35 reviled the plan, saying they’ve been left out of the conversation.
“It’s disingenuous to say it’s going to unite communities when it started with one community and didn’t include the other,” City Councilwoman Tiffinni Young said.
Discussion of the proposed park, which is part of the “Southern Gateway” plan to rebuild 35 and Highway 67, began with a frustrated city councilwoman who says she was disrespected, and it ended with an irate outburst from a former councilwoman sitting in the gallery.
City Council ultimately voted in favor of giving support to the proposed park between Ewing and Marsalis. Wednesday’s vote allows the city to give the Texas Department of Transportation a location, site plan and esthetics for the park, early details the highway agency says it must have by Sept. 30.
Councilman Lee Kleinman, who represents northern Dallas and is chair of the council’s transportation committee, shepherded the deck park proposal through that committee and to full City Council for a vote. Councilman Scott Griggs, whose district touches the west side of 35, has been gathering support for the park since its inception a couple of years ago.
But Councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold, whose district touches the east side of 35, says she’s been left out of the discussion. She accused Kleinman meddling in her district while keeping her out of the loop.
Supporters of the deck park, similar in scope to Klyde Warren Park, say it could create economic opportunity.
“It’s going to have its own character,” unlike that of Klyde Warren or any other Dallas park, Griggs said. “It’s going to make an already great place even better.”
But neighbors east of the interstate, in the Tenth Street Historic District, the freedman’s community that lost dozens of homes to 35, and the long-neglected Trinity River Bottoms, are wary of the plan.
They question whether homes or businesses could be taken by eminent domain. Whether already heavy, if sporadic, traffic from the Dallas Zoo could become worse. Whether runoff from the reconfigured highway could flood creeks. Whether jackhammering into limestone could harm zoo animals.
Broader questions include whether a deck park in southern Dallas could receive the same support — in the form of millions of dollars — that Klyde Warren receives. Whether the city can afford to maintain such a park. The plan would require a tunnel, similar to the one under Klyde Warren. Who would be responsible for maintaining that?
Eastside neighbors have those questions and more, besides the fact they see it as the plan of opportunistic Dallas.
“They’re rallying around investments in a neighborhood they don’t want to be a part of,” Arnold said.
After the vote, former City Councilwoman Carolyn Davis railed in an outburst directed at Councilman Casey Thomas, who voted in favor of the deck park: “You sold out the black community! I hope you lose the next election!”
Other City Council members questioned whether the proposed park could actually be funded. It would cost $95 million. The North Central Texas Council of Governments would kick in $40 million. It will cost an additional $55 million to top off the deck. Turning it into a park will cost another $23 million. So the city would have to come up with $78 million.
Councilwoman Sandy Greyson said she worries the city will make a promise to build this deck park and later decide we can’t afford it.
Griggs indicated he will be working to find private donors for the park. He says he wouldn’t support paying for it with city bond funds.
Mayor Mike Rawlings said the city was not “making a big leap” on this vote, and that there will be many opportunities to kill this project in the future, if that’s what neighbors really want.
“I insist the community will buy the specifics of this project,” he said.