Wall of opposition shelves Arboretum plan

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden administrators viewed their plans for a $500,000, seven-foot-tall, stucco wall along the garden’s Garland Road border as one more step in building a “world class” facility.

But members of eight Dallas neighborhood associations disagreed, arguing the proposed wall would close the garden off from the community and “clear cut” approximately 40 existing trees on the Arboretum’s grounds.

Two boisterous public hearings later, the Arboretum has changed its approach, scheduling a June 9 meeting to unveil an alternative to the wall. The new design is likely to include a graded earth beam, metal fencing, hedges and trees, with construction expected this fall.

The Arboretum is a public/private garden facility located on the site of the former DeGolyer Estate at 8617 Garland Road on the east shore of White Rock Lake. Ten percent of the Arboretum’s operating budget is contributed by the City; the remainder comes from entrance fees and private funding. The facility includes public gardens, meeting and picnic areas, and the historic DeGolyer and Camp houses.

More than 250,000 visitors have attended the Arboretum so far this year, says Jack Gorman, president of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society Inc. Attendance has increased each of the past eight years, Gorman says, making the facility the fastest growing public garden in the country.

The proposed wall was designed to shelter Arboretum visitors from the noise and views of rush-hour traffic, Gorman says. But the residents said those advantages would prevent Garland Road motorists from enjoying the view inside the garden. Further, it would promote an exclusionary, “country club” atmosphere, with the Arboretum inside and the rest of the neighborhood outside.

The Arboretum presented its wall plan at a meeting in early May, but immediate opposition by the neighborhood associations sent architect David Thompson of the SWA Group back to the drawing board.

Arboretum staff searched for the proper ambience for the second meeting nine days later, seating the audience outside, facing Garland Road traffic that occasionally drowned out their complaints.

Thompson seemed reluctant to let go of his original proposal. He produced enlarged, color photographs of tall, rose- and vine-colored walls.

“The wall in garden history has a very special place,” Thompson said.

The residents reacted angrily.

“They have not heard us. They have not listened to us. And now they’re surprised that we’re so emotional,” said Kate McSwain of the Peninsula Neighborhood Association.

Like supporters of the Meyerson Center, the Dallas Museum of Art and the World Cup, Arboretum officials invoke “world class” standards when they speak of their institution’s role in the City’s future.

But those sentiments also frighten residents, who fear they won’t be invited to the ball – who don’t want to attend the ball.

McSwain and others spoke of less-glamorous City projects starving for funds. Streets, parks, playgrounds, ball fields, recreation centers – even White Rock Lake – need the money. Trees are dying, and the City can’t afford to replace them while the Arboretum “clear-cuts” a stand of native hackberries and chinaberries for its Garland Road Enhancement Project, McSwain says.

Gorman says he understands the residents’ concerns about quality of life issues. Yes, the City has pledged $30 million in bond funds to the Arboretum as part of a 20-year master plan. But the Arboretum will contribute an additional $20 million in private funds during that period.

“No other organization has stepped up and said: ‘We’ll pick up 40 percent of the bill for a world-class attraction that will bring tourism and dollars to the city,’” he says.

“Maybe the wall isn’t the right solution, but whatever we come up with is only going to enhance the image of the neighborhoods, East Dallas and the city of Dallas. To do nothing would be the greatest crime of all.”

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