Poll: Open spaces or lakeside commerce?

Developers float the idea of a White Rock Lake restaurant, but to those who love the natural landscape, it is going to be a tough sell (tell us what you think in the poll at the bottom of this article)

Boy Scout Hil at White Rock Lake: Danny Fulgencio
Boy Scout Hil at White Rock Lake: Danny Fulgencio

wrlakmapIn a decades-long series of proposals for commercial development at White Rock Lake, the latest idea involves building a restaurant on a 12-acre lot at Boy Scout Hill southwest of Mockingbird and Buckner.

“The idea of a destination restaurant at White Rock Lake is going to be a hard sell,” says Michael Jung, chairman of the White Rock Lake Task Force.

Local architect Lyle Burgin and attorney Richard Kopf presented their idea to the task force in December; they are only testing the waters at this point and gathering public input before pursuing an official proposal.

Few details are known about the exact size and scale, the menu, the price point, parking or street reconfiguration. There’s not even a rendering yet, but Burgin says the design of the restaurant would fit in with the surrounding atmosphere.

“My vision is something similar to the stone tables — a lodge type of feel,” he says, referring to the pavilion near the Bath House Cultural Center off East Lawther.

This early and open dialogue came at the suggestion of Willis Winters, the director of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department. When Burgin and Kopf approached the city with the idea, Winters recommended they gather community input before drawing up any presumptuous, detailed plan.

“It was important to me that we do it that way,” Winters says. “There has been some distrust in the community.”

He’s referring to the infamous Winfrey Point controversy from May 2012, when the Dallas Arboretum wanted to use White Rock Lake’s popular gathering place for overflow parking, prompting protests by neighborhood activists over the potential destruction of native prairie grasses and the overall disruption of the lake’s natural setting.

“A general plan was developed with every intention of taking it to the public,” Winters says, “but the perception was that it was a done deal.”

The idea for a restaurant at Boy Scout Hill, on the other hand, won’t move forward without enough community support.

“They’re doing it the right way,” Jung says about the process, but when it comes to commercial development at the lake, “I don’t think the feelings have changed.”

The general attitude of the task force leans toward conservation and away from development that may upset the natural setting of the lake.

In 2006, there was a proposal to create a freestanding restaurant in the Big Thicket building, and the task force swiftly voted it down due to the increased traffic it would bring to an already crowded area of the lake.

And in March 2012, casual conversations surfaced in which city officials entertained a few more ideas for development around the lake, including a permanent food and beverage setup.

Which brings us to today. The idea for a restaurant at Boy Scout Hill was met with “open-minded skepticism,” Jung says.

So, what’s different about this idea? The location, for one.

Gerry Worrall, the city’s park board representative for the White Rock Lake area, says it’s still too early for the city to get involved, but the perception is that increased traffic may not be a huge concern as it often is with these issues. The area has easy access points straight from the already busy thoroughfares of Mockingbird and Buckner, so neighborhood streets wouldn’t see much impact.

“This is probably the one location at the lake where [the issue of traffic] would not be as relevant,” Worrall says.

Many questions remain, particularly how the restaurant would operate. Winters says an ideal scenario is as a nonprofit similar to the Klyde Warren Park restaurant, Savor, which is run by the Woodall Rogers Park Foundation, sending revenue back into the park. He says no such foundation around the lake has approached the city on the idea yet. The other scenario is one in which the city issues a public request for proposals from private developers.

As for other similar ideas and proposals for commercial development around the lake, Winters says that each is handled individually and that this restaurant “wouldn’t open the flood gates.”

Burgin and Kopf’s vision for the restaurant — as limited as it is right now — includes preserving and even planting new native prairie grasses around the site that may help obscure a parking lot made of decomposed granite; a nearby nature trail; and outdoor restrooms for lake users.

“The people we thought we’d get a lot of push-back from seem supportive of the idea,” says Burgin, who has lived in the M Streets for about 30 years.

Neighbors at least are open-minded. Even the most active critics of development at White Rock Lake applaud the transparency. It’s only fair to give Burgin and Kopf a chance to make their case.

“We will reserve judgment while they talk with community groups,” says Ted Barker, a well-known defender of the lake. “The community will help shape it.”

So far, the online poll of 677 Advocate readers shows that about 55 percent are against the idea, 30 percent support it, and 11 percent were unsure until more details of the plan are released.

“We see this as a process for public input before we even start putting lines on the paper,” Burgin says. “In order for a restaurant to be successful at the lake, it has to have the community support. Otherwise, it isn’t worth doing.”

Boy Scout Hil at White Rock Lake: Danny Fulgencio
Boy Scout Hil at White Rock Lake: Danny Fulgencio

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