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Council approves rezoning, revised plan for East Dallas school


Publisher Roy Appleton

Dallas Morning News

February 22, 2012

The City Council on Wednesday approved the rezoning for an East Dallas school, accepting a new development plan that eased its impact on the neighborhood.

The Dallas school district initially wanted city approval to build a parking lot and install a geothermal system for the future O.M. Roberts Elementary on a block across a street from the campus site.

But residents have complained that the district was encroaching on a residential area. Several council members last month sympathized with their concerns. A zoning decision was postponed.

The school district then agreed to reduce its presence on the block. It will use two instead of eight lots for geothermal wells, with the rest of the system located on the campus site to help heat and cool the school. The district also agreed to downsize the parking lot to save trees.

In a 12-3 vote, the council approved the revised plan.

The school district intends to open a school designed for 850 students on East Grand Avenue, where a smaller, aging O.M. Roberts was razed last summer.

Kirk Williams, an attorney representing the district, urged the council to support the latest plan to avoid construction delays. “We have made substantial concessions. We have worked with the neighborhood. But it’s time to pay attention to the children we need to educate,” he said.

Others asked the council to approve the new plan, saying students need a neighborhood school again so they won’t have to be bused.

Opponents repeated their concerns that the parking lot and geothermal well sites are an intrusion into a residential neighborhood. Norma Hernandez, a neighborhood resident, urged the council to again delay a vote “because there are still issues that we need time to resolve.”

Several council members talked as if their decision came down to whether the school would be built, as if they were making a choice between a parking lot and children. “I don’t want the parking lot to stop future years of schooling,” Dwaine Caraway said.

Angela Hunt assailed the district, saying “we’ve been presented with a false choice.”

“They can give this community what they want,” she said, by reconfiguring the plan to put all parking on the campus site. “There’s a win-win here and the DISD is trying to be a bully and push this council around.” Joining her in opposing the rezoning were Sandy Greyson and Scott Griggs.

Mayor Mike Rawlings said he hoped the school district “has gotten the signal that we’re not happy about the way this has been handled.” He also said he wanted to keep working with the neighborhood to resolve concerns.

And when he asked Williams about the district’s alternatives if its request were denied, the attorney said DISD could file suit and pursue the argument that school districts aren’t subject to city zoning.

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