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City Council Delays Giving DISD Rezoning It Wants in Jubilee Park, Pending Trustees’ Vote on School Closures Tomorrow Night


January 25, 2012

Robert Wilonsky

Dallas Observer

Best I can tell using our half-baked search engine, we began writing about Jubilee Park-ers' battle with the Dallas Independent School District over a new-and-improved O.M. Roberts in April 2010, when residents told Dallas County commissioners they were terrified of losing their homes in an eminent domain tug-of-war with the district. As the battle played out we met longtime residents such as Shawn Busari and Norma Hernandez, who have fought the district every step of the way as it planned to put in parking lots and geothermal heating-and-cooling pipes on empty lots between existing homes.

The district insists: It needs those sites to replace the torn-down O.M. Roberts using 2008 bond funds. Some longtime residents insist: No it does not. And per Roy Appleton's superb recap in the morning paper, architects and planners agree: "You can't take residential neighborhoods and build schools," in the words of Dallas CityDesign Studio head Brent Brown, who offices at Dallas City Hall.

Busari and Hernandez and other Jubilee Park residents returned to Dallas City Hall this afternoon to yet again make their case — this time to the Dallas City Council, which would cast the final vote for or against the district's request to rezone those properties. Because where once the City Plan Commission shot down the district's expansion plans, in December it signed off the proposal to rezone.

Said Hernandez: The DISD is trying to "destroy our community." Said Busari: "We're asking you today, even though our numbers are small, leave us, please don't take to thinking it's OK to allow a parking lot to become a place where human beings are supposed to exist. Let us stay homeowners. Bring the homes back. Don't rezone us. Don't rezone us."

But Roberts teachers, students and parents — who are currently at Mount Auburn and Mata, awaiting their new home — also spoke in favor of the rezoning request. Said one teacher: "Do what is needed today to turn the land into a parking lot so we can build the new school and return to where we belong." A fifth-grader read from a letter, which began: "Dear Honorable Mayor Rawlings and city council members, I am writing this paper to persuade you to approve the rezoning." The mayor was appropriately charmed.

Karl Crawley from MasterPlan, which is repping the district, said this isn't perfect, not by any stretch. "But it's the best situation with the real state we purchased."

And then it was time for the council to weigh in.

Pauline Medrano wanted to know: Will the school be built? Because, you know, it is on the list of 11 schools to be consolidated under the plan that's scheduled to be voted on tomorrow evening. Larry Zerby, the district's director of design, told Medrano it's presently being bid. But: "Yes, it will be built. That is our plan."

‚ÄčSaid Medrano: "I think it could have been done a lot better," without splitting the community. "It has been divisive." Nevertheless she moved to sign off on the plan commission's recommendation to allow for those parking lots, which the district says it needs to build Roberts.

Sandy Greyson, though, had no kind words for the district. She reminded: These lots were not vacant till the district came in, bought houses from owners who believed they would be taken from them and tore them down. Said the council member from North Dallas: "This caused such divisiveness in this neighborhood and unnecessarily so. … Even the people asking you not to support it want to see the school built, but in a way that doesn't negatively impact the neighborhood."

And, for God's sake, she said, this doesn't even make sense — being asked to vote to allow building a new school the district might well vote to shutter tomorrow anyway. What in the …?

"Hunh? Until we know if the school's going to be built," she said, the council should defer the vote. "I've already told Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Medrano I can't support this. It's not that I don't want the school built [but] this was not done well." Ann Margolin said close to the same thing; so too Carolyn Davis.

Dwaine Caraway used the opportunity not to talk about Roberts or Jubilee Park. Rather, he said, he went to one of those school-consolidation meetings the other night and heard that someone from the district said the city's to blame "for something the school board has failed to do. … I am very disappointed they told the community it was the city of Dallas that's responsible. I do intend to go to the board meeting to express that tomorrow night."

Mayor Mike Rawlings, who ran his campaign last summer insisting he'd do all he could to fix the troubled district, had enough of that kind of talk. Before letting Angela Hunt have her say, the mayor interjected — with not a small amount of force behind his words.

"I think we should reset this and understand where we are," he said. "Obviously it's a tricky situation. We all went to help neighborhoods. It could have been handled much better and the process is not what we like. We as a city must come together, and DISD should not point fingers at the city of Dallas and the city of Dallas should not point fingers at DISD. We must be together. … It is our job to emotionally support [DISD] as best we can. … These kids have been bused for a year, and we must get on with the education of these children — children first. I am not happy the way this is but you have my full support."

The mayor then said: Far as he knows, if the council votes to rezone in DISD's favor, it can always revisit and reverse the subject. Which, sure, you can do, said Theresa O'Donnell, head of Sustainable Development. But it's a long, drawn-out process — an "authorized hearing," as it's called, which is only done "with great caution."

Angela Hunt wanted to postpone it for a month. Vonciel Jones Hill said she'd do what Pauline Medrano wants to do. And, look, "Whether this could have been done better is a DISD trustee question," she said. "I have not sat in the trustees' seats. I don't want to sit in their seats. … I am happy to hear all of the discussion, but I want all of us — respectfully, colleagues — to find our lane and stay in it."

You bet, said Greyson. "And I cannot support this zoning. I am not against this school. I believe this could be done a whole lot better, brought back in a zoning fashion that is something I could support. And if we deny this today DISD could come back in a short period of time if they vote to keep the school open with a better zoning plan for this we could then approve."

At which point the whole thing spun out of control. Because how in the hell is the city council expected to vote on rezoning for a school that may be closed tomorrow? O'Donnell said she wanted some clarification from the district. At which point Medrano withdrew her motion to approve the zoning request. Instead, she said the council should discuss this again in four weeks — on February 22. Mayor Mike couldn't act fast enough: All in favor? All in favor.

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