More than 500 people packed into the Lake Highlands Baptist Church sanctuary Tuesday night to hear Lyle Burgin and Richard Kopf make their pitch for a restaurant on White Rock Lake’s Boy Scout Hill — and to protest the proposal.
“We knew it would be mostly opponents,” Kopf says.
Just a week ago, the developers hired a public relations firm to help rally supporters and communicate their message, but the opposition is way ahead of them. Only a handful of attendees raised their hands in support of the restaurant, and none made it to a microphones.
Parts of the presentation prompted booing and hissing from the audience along with some emotional pleas from neighbors fighting to protect the lake from commercialization. It ended with remarks from City Councilman Sheffie Kadane — now the proud owner of a green “Save Boy Scout Hill” t-shirt. He previously told us he was “leaning with the neighborhoods” and last night pledged to oppose the restaurant.
“Once this comes before the city council, I will not be not approving this restaurant,” he says. “There’s no way I can approve a restaurant at White Rock Lake.”
Members of the Old Lake Highlands Neighborhood Association, who hosted the meeting, set the tone at the door, handing out green ribbons and bracelets. The odds clearly were stacked against Burgin and Kopf.
They went over much of what we’ve already reported, including the plan’s lease structure: build the restaurant with private funds, give it to the city and then pay about$250,000 a year in rent to a nonprofit run by existing groups around the lake (groups that have not supported the idea).
The developers say the restaurant would add to the annual $450,000 the park receives from the city, which “doesn’t go very far,” Burgin says.
“Like all of you, we are lovers of the lake,” Kopf says. “We ask that you keep an open mind. [The idea is] not to take away the park but provide an additional amenity at the lake.”
They pointed to a long list of other cities that have done similar projects on park land and even in national parks — the Loeb Boathouse in New York City’s Central Park, the Presidio Cafe in San Francisco and the Arizona Room at the Grand Canyon, to name a few.
One by one, concerned neighbors approached the microphones. One called the proposal “an arrogant and egregious violation of public trust,” accusing the developers of “under the table” dealings with the city to simply create a way to charge people for the best view in Dallas.
Kopf insisted they’ve played by the rules, following the advice of parks department director Willis Winters, who sent them to the White Rock Lake Task Force last fall before accepting any official proposal at City Hall. Since then, the developers slowly have been making the rounds to neighborhood groups.
A few residents north of the lake showed up in support of the restaurant, including Scott Johnson, a lifelong Lake Highlands resident and Lake Highlands High School graduate.
“What they’re proposing, if done right, could be a fantastic amenity,” Johnson says.
Bill Simms, past president of the Lake Highlands Exchange Club, says a restaurant would make the lake more accessible to everyone, not just the hikers, cyclists and sailors.
“You have to have business in order to support infrastructure,” Simms says. “Everyone is for that, unless it’s in their own backyard.”
Still, an overwhelming majority of residents protested the plans. So what does the negative feedback mean for the developers? Do they move forward with their proposal or back off?
“It’s always the vocal minority that says ‘no,’” Burgin says. “Until we confirm that that’s the preference of all the neighborhood associations and groups around the lake, we’re not going to give up.”
Kopf says he and Burgin plan to bring the proposal back to the task force in June, but task force president Michael Jung says he may not want to wait that long. The 25-member board could take an official vote at its next meeting May 13.
The task force is only an advisory board, though. “We don’t have veto power,” Jung says. And their vote technically can’t keep the developers from taking the proposal to the parks board.
If the task force vote is unanimously against the restaurant, “We’re probably not going to go forward with it,” Kopf says. “But if it’s anything else … We’ll see what happens.”
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