We Have a Voice LH sign

We Have a Voice LH sign

Homeowners near White Rock Elementary have grown accustomed to finding letters taped on their front doors and slipped into their mailboxes. Lake Highlands realtors know the market is hot, and they seek – and often find – homes to sell that way.

This letter, though, has a different message.

The letter, reprinted below in its entirety, seeks “support in helping to prevent a school being built at White Rock Trail & Walnut Hill.” It is part of the WeHaveaVoiceLH.com campaign, complete with three -color yard signs and a slick website, designed to halt Richardson ISD’s planned construction of the new elementary school.

The school is needed, say district officials, to alleviate overcrowding at White Rock Elementary.

The letter gives a long list of reasons why, according to residents spearheading the effort, the site is inferior for a school, and it refers to 1978 deed restrictions, formalized by the City of Dallas, which set out approved uses for the site.

A school is not one of them.

That’s not a problem for RISD, according to RISD General Counsel Mia Martin. She’s been advising RISD staff and trustees on the issue since the land was purchased in April.

“While the matter is somewhat complicated and RISD continues to work with the City of Dallas,” said Martin in a written statement, “the district believes it can legally build a school on the site.”

Lake Highlands’ Dallas City Councilman Adam McGough disagrees that RISD is not bound by the deed restrictions.

“I do not believe it is my role to advocate for any position at this time,” said McGough in a statement. “No zoning case relating to the WRT location has been initiated and no application for permits from the city have been made to my knowledge. A public deed restriction that cannot be altered, amended, or terminated without a public hearing before the city plan commission and the city council is still tied to the land. I remain intimately engaged, and I am reading every email and every message that I receive. At this point, well over 85% of the correspondence I have received is in opposition to building a school at this location. I look forward to a healthy discussion and meaningful public involvement in this process.”

I sat down Saturday with Ali Cullum and Rahul Yodh, spokesmen for the We Have a Voice LH group.

“We all understand that there’s an overcrowding problem at White Rock Elementary. I don’t think anyone in the neighborhood wants a mega-school,” said Yodh. “Our group is comprised of people from all different situations. My kids go to St. Pat’s. We live in White Rock Valley. My wife went to White Rock Elementary. She was born in that house in 1977.”

“My son goes to WRE and my daughter goes to White Rock North, a private school on the corner,” agreed Cullum. “I graduated from Moss Haven and LHHS. But we have people from the WRE side of Walnut Hill, we have people from Lake Highlands North, we have community members with no kids or no kids in the schools anymore – so we span all aspects of the neighborhood. We have people who have been in this neighborhood for decades. We know that something has to be done to handle overcrowding, we just are saying that building a school on that corner is not a good choice – it’s not a safe choice, it’s not the right place for an elementary school.”

With its power of eminent domain, the school district may have the ability to have the deed restrictions eliminated from the property through condemnation, but Yodh said that’s not the way RISD should go about it.

“This afternoon I was speaking to my next door neighbor, Joyce Butler,” said Yodh, who lives on Spring Branch. “She told me that she and her deceased husband, Norm, back in 1978, went door-to-door to get signatures to get those deed restrictions in place. At that time, that plot of land was zoned for residential only. The owners wanted to build an office building, so they walked door-to-door to get signatures to make sure that, if an office building was built, they couldn’t tear it down and build something else there ten years later. These people worked really hard for the good of the neighborhood, years ago, to establish these deed restrictions. And what the RISD is saying is – these don’t apply to us.

“If they are so confident that a school could be built there, and the community will be supportive of it, there is a process within the deed restriction to get it lifted with a public hearing and a majority or supermajority of the residents approving. So let’s follow the process that generations before us put in place.”

“We work hard to create that ‘Small Town Neighborhood in the City’ that Lake Highlands is supposed to be,” said Cullum, “and we don’t think it’s fair to be steamrolled, especially on something as important as the environment in which our children will be educated. Especially when that environment overlaps into the environment they come home to.”

Beyond the deed restrictions, they say, the site is inferior due to safety and traffic concerns.

“As people who live there, we walk there every day, our kids play there, we drive there, we see it. The school renderings looks lovely. But this is not going to be lovely and serene when you have the entire neighborhood, from White Rock Trail all the way to Flag Pole Hill trying to get out to Walnut Hill for work, and you have 750 kids worth of cars driving to drop off kids,” says Cullum, “and no one walking to school because it’s not safe to walk.”

Cullum and Yodh admit they aren’t coming to the table with an alternate proposal – that’s RISD’s job, they say. But they’re sure a creative solution can be found. And they resent, they say, RISD’s claim that delays will force the district to carve up the neighborhood and send WRE students to other schools.

“That’s a transparent scare tactic,” says Cullum. “It just inflames parents more. You don’t want community support based off of fear.”

RISD says they have plans for a beautiful, state-of-the art elementary on the site, and some statements in the letter are simply inaccurate. You can read a statement from RISD below the We Have a Voice letter and see RISD’s new video regarding plans for the new school here.

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Dear Neighbor,

We would like your support in helping to prevent a school being built at White Rock Trail & Walnut Hill.

While we understand that there are issues with capacity at White Rock Elementary, we feel that the construction of a school at White Rock Trail is not the best solution for the problem, it is just the easiest solution.

How Will It Impact You?

  1. The attendance boundaries for elementary schools will be redrawn. How they are redrawn will be entirely up to the RISD board members.
  2. There has already been a message from RISD, that the extra capacity at White Rock Elementary will be used to accommodate transfer students and children of staff members and probably not for programs that would enhance the education experience for students.
  3. A school on that site will be a considerable traffic concern for the neighborhood. White Rock Trail is one of the major exits out of the neighborhood. Not only will White Rock Trail be impacted, interior streets will be impacted as residents find new routes through the interior streets of our neighborhood to exit.
  4. An RISD preliminary traffic analysis has confirmed our traffic concerns and is recommending that White Rock Trail be expanded. This will pose an undue burden on your neighbors who are adjacent to White Rock Trail as they may have property that is reclaimed by the city via eminent domain.
  5. That site is not feasible for a new school as it is only 4.5 acres leaving very little green space for students and parking for only 250 vehicles.
  6. Preliminary estimates suggest that a school on this site would cost 2x what a school on a more suitable site would cost. This is due to the site being smaller, and the elevation change on the site.

What Can You Do?

In 1978, neighborhood property owners asked the City Council to place a deed restriction on the property at White Rock Trail. This deed restriction said that the property could ONLY be used for the following purposes and no other:

  1. Single family detached homes;
  2. Bank without a drive through;
  3. Medical/Dental/Optical clinic;
  4. General Office

Our City Council representative, Adam McGough, has spoken to the City Attorney’s office and can fight the construction of a school in that location based on this deed restriction. However, he needs to hear from neighbors so that he is representing the views of the neighborhood appropriately.

Only when we get the school construction blocked will RISD sit down with residents and build a school that meets the needs of all of Lake Highlands.

Please send an email to Councilman McGough (adam.mcgough@dallascityhall.com) TODAY and tell him:

I am a resident of the neighborhood impacted by the proposed new RISD school at White Rock Trail & Walnut Hill.

It is my understanding that the property currently is subject to a deed restriction which was put in place to protect the neighborhood. I am opposed to the deed restriction being waived and am opposed to construction of any type of school on this property.

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Why is RISD building a new elementary school in the White Rock attendance zone?

The purpose of the new school on White Rock Trail is to alleviate overcrowding caused by continued enrollment growth at White Rock Elementary.

Where will the new school’s attendance zone come from?

The attendance boundaries of the new school are expected to be drawn from the existing boundaries of White Rock Elementary.

What is the projected cost of the new elementary school at White Rock Trail? How does this cost compare to similar projects in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area?

RISD’s total estimated cost for the new elementary at White Rock Trail is $29.628 million. The new elementary school being built by Highland Park ISD, a multi-story campus on a similarly sized lot, is projected to cost a total of $32.5 million.

Is White Rock Trail capable of handling the traffic a new elementary school will bring?

A traffic study is currently being performed and will be included as part of the required documents for City of Dallas staff consideration. The preliminary traffic review, completed by our architects, recommended a three-lane loop road around the site, which we have included in conceptual plans and funded in the project’s budget. This loop road provides for more on-site traffic management than what is currently available at any of our other elementary schools.

Off-site traffic concerns are the responsibility of the City of Dallas. RISD will work closely and collaboratively with the City to address traffic and sidewalk patterns, as the District has in the past, to provide a safe environment for children.

Other RISD elementary schools are similarly situated and handle pick up and drop off traffic with substantially less on-site queue space than the White Rock Trail site will have.

Does the site offer enough play area and green space?

The site offers ample green and play space for students, based on other RISD elementary campuses as well as comparable projects in nearby districts. The approximate 2-acre usable play area is larger than (1) RISD’s Greenwood Hills Elementary (686 student capacity/1.51 acre play area), (2) Highland Park ISD’s new elementary school (770 student capacity/1.07 acre play area) and (3) Garland ISD’s Daugherty Elementary (746 student capacity/.5 acre play area).

Is the District planning for adequate parking?

The new school’s approximate 250 parking spaces will offer more than twice the dedicated parking available at each of the last four elementary schools build by RISD, and approximately 100 parking spaces more than what is currently available at Lake Highlands Junior High. RISD’s goal is to balance safe and convenient entrance and egress for students and their families with responsible use of land – including ample green space and play areas.