When I arrived at the Boy Scout Hill town hall meeting, there was a line forming out the door from a table handing out green lapel ribbons and thumbs up/down signs for attendees. According to a volunteer named Susan at the table, the ribbons showed support for an unsullied Boy Scout Hill, while the signs were for attendees to use to quietly indicate whether they liked or disliked what presenters Lyle Burgin and Richard Kopf had to say. I have covered town hall meetings before, so I know they can get out of hand quite quickly, but this level of preparedness left me hopeful.
But even with these quiet signs of support for, as one nearby resident described Boy Scout Hill, “the last unspoiled view of White Rock Lake,” the crowd was raucous and disrespectful, shouting down Kopf and Burgin for an hour, and even interrupting their 20 minute presentation. Despite Old Lake Highlands Neighborhood Association president Charles Wicker’s repeated calls for quiet and civility during the meeting, several residents continued to disrupt the presentation, including one woman who could not be bothered to close her mouth despite the angry stares and loud hushes from those who sat nearby. I want to give big ups to Wicker, who was reffing a brawl for the most part, as politely asking people to sit down and shut their pie holes is never easy.
I chatted with Ted Barker, an organizer with OLHNA, before the presentation. With him was a 1987 outline of intended uses for White Rock Lake Park, as well as several nuanced and intelligent questions that attendees could ask regarding the development. And you know what? I really wish that Barker could have had some of his questions answered during the session, because that would have raised the bar of discourse immensely. While it was entertaining to watch speaker after speaker come up to the mic during the question and answer period and spout the same angry diatribe that coated the spittle-flecked microphone for an hour, it was tiring. And embarrassing.
But that’s not to say that Burgin and Kopf didn’t have a few faux pas themselves. During introductions, Kopf noted that he is also the president of his neighborhood association, so he totally understood the questions and concerns of the crowd. “I’m a lawyer — a real estate lawyer — that’s my day job,” Kopf added. “It seems like my night job is to come to meetings like this.”
Ugh. Not what they want to hear, Kopf! You don’t tell an angry crowd of 500 former hippies, REI members, and retirees that they are just another meeting in a cadre of angry forums you’re forced to go to, night after night. And then, during the presentation, Kopf had the stones to point out Boy Scout Hill on a map, as if the butts in the pews had no idea where it was, and needed his instruction. Patronizing, to say the least.
After that, most of the good points of Burgin and Kopf’s plan fell on deaf ears among the standing-room-only crowd inside Lake Highlands Baptist Church’s sanctuary, so let me just reiterate it for you here:
The Boy Scout Hill restaurant would be modeled after other successful restaurants inside public parks. Some examples include Loeb Boathouse in NYC, Presidio Cafe in San Francisco, Top of the Falls at Niagra Falls, Ralph’s on the Park in New Orleans, and Savor in our own Klyde Warren Park.
The location was chosen because it has easy access to two main thoroughfares surrounding the lake — Mockingbird Lane and Buckner Boulevard. “Frankly, we think it’s the only location,” Kopf said, to the boos and hisses of the crowd. “We tried to look at other locations to see where we could do it,” he added. Many restaurant patrons would enter on East Lawther from Buckner Boulevard, Kopf said, and while they had looked at Winfrey Point as a possible location, it “was an accident waiting to happen.”
With investors backing the restaurant, Burgin said they would be building a $5 to $7 million restaurant on 2.5 acres near the top of Boy Scout Hill. The restaurant would be 8,500 square feet under A/C, with 5,000 square feet of outdoor dining patio. There would be a 160-spot terraced, decomposed granite parking lot on the side of the hill above the restaurant. There would be concessions and public facilities as well. There would be a planned development district with lease restrictions, and the building would be at least LEED Gold certified. They would then execute a lease with a restaurateur and part of the restaurant’s gross sales, about $250,000 annually, would be dedicated to a trust fund for reinvestment into White Rock Lake.
“I was talking to someone today,” Kopf said during the presentation, “and they said ‘You go to Winfrey Point and the restrooms don’t even work.’ ”
I think working public restrooms were the only part of Burgin and Kopf’s plan that didn’t get a boo or a hiss.
I could go on and on and quote some of the cliches that folks said coming up to the mic. Of course, there was the ubiquitous “paving over paradise” quote. Interestingly, though, Kopf said that Dallas City Council member Sheffie Kadane, whose district includes the neighborhoods surrounding Boy Scout Hill, didn’t know anything about the proposed restaurant. “The first time Sheffie heard about this was the day after our presentation,” Kopf said.
Au contraire, said Kadane when he strode up to the front at the end of the meeting, and draped a “Save Boy Scout Hill” T Shirt across his shoulders in support of the crowd opposing the restaurant. Sheffie said he knew about the restaurant, but that he told developers that he would not approve it without hearing from neighborhoods first. “I said, you get the neighborhoods’ approval and then you come to me,” Kadane said. “They haven’t come to anyone at City Hall.”
And after that, Kadane delivered the words the throngs of angry homeowners had been waiting to hear: “I will not be approving this restaurant,” he said, to thunderous applause. “There’s no way I can approve a restaurant at White Rock Lake.”
I’m just going to come out and say that I like Burgin and Kopf’s design, and that it would work really well on a lake somewhere, but it’s not going to happen at Boy Scout Hill. There are some that like the idea, including Casa View Haven Neighborhood Association vice president Amanda Buckley, who was the only supporter to reach the microphone last night. She said she would love to take in the view with friends and a margarita, and that if done right, it would be a beautiful asset to the lake and surrounding area. And Burgin and Kopf said that at a previous neighborhood meeting, about 50 percent of attendees supported the plan.
But a neighbor of mine who is on the board of For The Love of The Lake says that the planned trust fund Burgin and Kopf presented to them wasn’t nearly so beneficial or far-reaching. In fact, the $250K trust fund would be doled out among the more than two dozen nonprofits focused on White Rock Lake. It’s nothing but a drop in the bucket compared to ongoing fundraising efforts to beautify the lake, and far less a portion of the profit a restaurant serving liquor in this location could make. Still, the two developers have yet to present their plan to other neighborhood groups, some of which may support their proposal. I doubt that will change much, though.
“I want to thank Sheffie for coming,” Kopf said at the very end. “We think [the restaurant] would be a great thing, but obviously there are a lot of people who don’t.”
Ever the master of understatement, Richard Kopf.