Update: Developers make their case for a White Rock Lake restaurant

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An aerial view of Boy Scout Hill via Google Maps

Earlier this week, we wrote about the long and arduous process that would take place should a restaurant at White Rock Lake ever become a reality. And, we gave you Councilman Sheffie Kadane’s take, which is that he’ll stand by what neighbors want, even if he disagrees with them.

The developers need support from the surrounding community to move forward with the idea (so far, it’s not looking too good). The notion of permanently handing over parkland is too hard to swallow for many neighbors who simply don’t trust the process, no matter what restrictions are put in place.

Neighbors who actually like the idea of a restaurant aren’t speaking up. But at a meeting last week, one Old Lake Highlands resident stood up at the end of the dicey presentation and voiced an opinion almost unheard of in this debate. Janet D. Smith is a master naturalist who understands the importance of preserving the Blackland prairie around White Rock Lake.

“I was totally against it,” she said. “But I’m much more open to it. I think these guys have done an excellent job of considering the ecology of the area.”

“I think these guys have done an excellent job of considering the ecology of the area.”

Another neighbor, Mike Gaffney, also a master naturalist, echoed the sentiment, saying the developers have “done their homework,” but added that a full environmental impact study would be needed. The developers, Lyle Burgin and Richard Kopf, who are both neighborhood residents and lake users themselves, agreed.

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So, what are the details of the plan that might just change the minds of two nature lovers? Here’s a breakdown of what we learned from the developers, although it wasn’t enough to satisfy most of the 30 or so people in the room. (Consider this a preview of what you’ll hear if you attend the next big public meeting at 7 p.m. April 22 at Lake Highlands Baptist Church.)

The location

Boy Scout Hill is situated at the far northeast corner of the lake, southwest of Mockingbird and Buckner, on about 15 acres of land. The restaurant and its parking would take up about 2 1/2 acres near the top of the hill above the existing pavilion. Most of the site is made up of thorny briar that hasn’t been maintained. Nobody walks around up there or flies their kite up there. Lake users would still have room to use the surrounding green space apart from the restaurant.

However, opponents say the briar provides shelter for wildlife and should be left alone.

Blending into the prairie

“A big portion of what we’re doing relates to the restoration of the Blackland prairie,” Burgin says. In addition to preserving as much native prairie grass as possible, the developers want to plant more around the site, with a vision of the lodge-like restaurant framed by the tall, flowing grass swaying in the wind.

The plan also includes an educational nature trail that would extend from the restaurant down to the hill, featuring markers that identify the different types of native grasses.

Burgin says he doesn’t have detailed renderings of the actual building but says it would have a low eave-line and be built with sustainable materials.

“We want this restaurant to feel like a place that’s been here forever,” he says.

“We want this restaurant to feel like a place that’s been here forever.”

The square footage amounts to about 14,500 square feet; that includes the building, parking and outdoor terrace area. The parking lot would be made of decomposed granite, rather than pavement, providing about 160 spaces, which is more than the developers think they need.

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Things the might not blend in too well? Neighbors are concerned about the smells that may emit from the kitchen and the dumpsters, noisy delivery trucks and other uses associated with a restaurant.

Traffic woes

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Burgin and Kopf say that vehicles coming and going from the restaurant would not interfere with East Lawther or any hike and bike trails nearby. They’ve been in talks with TxDOT about the feasibility of adding a separate turn lane from Buckner, and it’s possible the project could spur other improvements around the Mockingbird/Buckner intersection. They also expect neighborhood patrons to walk or bike to the restaurant.

Is this the first of many?

Opponents worry the restaurant is part of a larger scheme to commercialize the lake, and this would be the first domino to fall. Burgin and Kopf insist that’s not the case, plus city officials explain that every case is handled individually.

“We think this is the best location,” Kopf says, “but we also think it’s the only location.”

If they chose a less visible spot near the lake, another developer might come in afterward and want to snatch up Boy Scout Hill, and then you’ve got two restaurants, Kopf says. They believe this would be the first and last restaurant at the lake.

“We think this is the best location, but we also think it’s the only location.”

Giving back to the lake

As we’ve reported, the plans call for the restaurant to operate as a nonprofit similar to Savor at Klyde Warren Park. Burgin estimates the restaurant could generate around $5 million a year, and part of the revenue would go toward park improvements and could be managed by existing organizations around the lake such as the White Rock Lake Foundation, For the Love of the Lake and the White Rock Lake Conservancy.

As for whether those groups would be interested in that part of deal, “We are still a while away from having tangible discussions about that,” Burgin says.

The long-term effect

Say, the restaurant gets built — what does it look like in 20 or 30 years? When/if the developers submit their plan to the city, they’ll ask for a planned development district on that site. That type of zoning would restrict what could be done to it in the future — everything down to the size and scale, the materials used and the protection of the native prairie grasses.

The use for the site would be set in stone, so to speak, but no one can predict whether the city would approve a change to that plan or do away with it altogether decades from now, depending on who’s in charge.

That might be the heart of the issue for the Save Boy Scout Hill folks, who via this petition, have gathered more than 800 signatures against the restaurant. Even if something sounds like a good idea, what’s promised isn’t always what’s delivered.

But Burgin and Kopf see the restaurant as an important piece of the community around White Rock Lake — people gathering, flying kites, jogging, cycling, kayaking, sailing, pushing strollers … and having a nice meal with a view.

“This is more than just a restaurant,” Kopf says.

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  • Julie Sherrod

    An update, I spoke directly with Rick Kopf while at Boy Scout Hill two weeks ago. I asked about the quotes in early articles that said they would not move forward if the neighborhoods were in opposition, my question was at what point would there be enough opposition for them to stop moving forward. His response was that at this time they will be moving forward through the 4 steps Emily outlined in the previous article regardless of citizen opposition.

    I asked about the non-profit they have mentioned as a potential manager in their plan – For the Love of the Lake (FLTOTL). I asked if this group was aware that he and Lyle have been using their name in their presentations. He wasn’t sure. This week the board for FTLOTL voted unanimously against the restaurant.

    When any reasonable person looks at the concept drawing they have created and walks the hill it is quite clear that this would be DESTRUCTION not development. In order to be supportive of this plan one would have to be completely ignorant of or not care about this hill and the great good fortune it brings to our city.

    Mayor Rawlings spoke yesterday about the importance of green in our city. http://youtu.be/m0vcjpJtwIg

  • lazarus

    If you want to see how the City of Dallas operated on a similar venture, do an open records request for a copy of White Rock Boat House and Pump House entertainment venue contract agreement. A real laugh! And what else did the citizens of Dalles get? Yelling and screaming on AMPLIFIED BULLHORNS and a cheap, huge, trashy ugly metal building on the shoreline of White Rock Lake right next to the architecturally significant pump house. Absolutely destroyed the shoreline and the view. All done under the public radar. Dallas United Crew will be more of same ! A sucker is born every minute.

  • Becky Dinsmore

    This feels very much like the fight for Winfrey Point. Will we have to have this argument again and again? A park is a park is a park. not a commercial enterprise. My guess is that these developers have never stepped foot there, except to walk off how many parking spaces they’ll need. Those of us in East Dallas, and many others around the city of Dallas see WRL for what it is: the natural and aesthetic gem of this city. One of the few areas of town where you’ll see flora and fauna instead of glass and cement. Not all Dallasites are about shopping and dining. Leave us our space to breathe, exercise, medidate, relax with friends and family – and put the “another dining choice” with its traffic, noise, trash, sewage and disruption somewhere else. The lack of appreciation for what we already have is heartbreaking.

  • mdmost

    People who think the city shouldn’t be giving away public land to private developers. People who think we should just leave the lake alone.

  • Julie Sherrod

    947 signatures on petition to save Boy Scout Hill!

  • bubba

    Built with sustainable materials and an educational nature trial to boot! Who could argue with that?

  • Ben

    If I am not mistaken there are charcoal grills all around the lake, even one at the area in question. Grab some kingsford and some weenies at Albertsons then go have dinner with a view.

  • Ron M

    Two seasoned developers with a slick presentation. The sunny-day feeling they are selling is not based on reality. More likely: bad food, overpriced drinks, scorching hot or rainy or windy days on the deck, a seat in the back of the indoor dining area. After all, this is Dallas, Texas weather we are talking about here.

    If they can convince us to give up our park, they get a monopoly on liquor sales for miles, free use of a prime lot, tax-free. What do we get? More traffic, more parked cars, increased litter, more noise, views of buildings where we now have trees and grass. That’s a good deal for the developers but bad for local residents and users of the park.

    If they generate any money for the city — and that is far from guaranteed– then it will go to a general fund with little accountability. Zero will go to the local, White Rock Lake Park. Not fair to local area businesses. Not fair for users of White Rock Lake Park. Not fair for residents. Not fair for citizens of Dallas.

    Go have a beer on the deck of the Arboretum. Pay for the privilege.

  • Priscilla Brawner

    White Rock Lake Park should remain a public park. No development, no manicured lawns – just park. Too much underbrush has already been removed and with it, wildlife habitat. We have a wonderful public park – let’s keep it.

  • Kathleen Lynch

    Boy Scout Hill, is a favorite family kite-flying, bird-watching and viewing spot, and is maintained and owned by the taxpayers. It is land which has been enjoyed by Dallas residents and non-residents, generation after generation, and land that has one of the best views of the Dallas skyline with White Rock Lake in the foreground.

    I use to think this issue was about two guys and their idea to build a restaurant at the hill. I want to make this real clear, what we are talking about is power, greed and egos to the max – not a restaurant. What we are talking about is giving away, taxpayer owned/taxpayer maintained park land, prime Dallas real estate, known to many as Boy Scout Hill – probably worth over 90 million dollars, as commercial property – to two private developers, for basically nothing.

    This is not about a trendy “destination” restaurant with a view, it is not about the cute little concession (for the underprivileged) stand adjacent to the restaurant that will
    be selling water, chap stick and snow cones…it is about opening up the lake
    to two “chosen” developers who are “well-connected” politically. The restaurant is their foot in the door – it is becoming clear that no real money is going to be made from the restaurantand that the city will probably only receive $250K in annual revenue. So why are the developers so tenacious about the restaurant being built? My guess is Kopf and Burgin, “the-good-old-boys” – want to continue to develop the park’s land on the east side of the lake – even though they say the opposite – it is the only side of the lake with enough useable land to develop, and that is where
    they will make their money, with continued development – on our park land.

    This is also about the city leaders, who we have elected, who do not give a hoot about wildlife, natural habitats, the history of and/or preservation of “virgin”, (meaning
    never plowed) Black Prairie Land or its taxpaying citizens who are already
    using and enjoying Boy Scout Hill.

    This prime taxpayer owned real estate, is already being used and shared by all the citizens of Dallas…rich/poor, anyone/anywhere,whether they live in Dallas and share the tax burden or not. The restaurant would change the concept of sharing completely. Only a few will benefit from something we all pay for each year when we write the check for our property taxes – our city leaders and the developers should not have exclusive rights to something that we all “own” together. Keep this land free for anyone and everyone to enjoy for generations to come.


    Kopf, the same outfit that brought the museum tower train wreck to Dallas. I’m not so sure they do their homework as well as this Advocate Article would lead you to believe.


    Merriam Webster online says:
    : a piece of public land in or near a city that is kept free of houses and other buildings and can be used for pleasure and exercise
    : a large area of public land kept in its natural state to protect plants and animals.

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  • Deb

    How can Kopf and Burgin be so bold as to say this would
    be the only development! This would be opening a Pandora’s box. If the restaurant is successful, common sense tells us there would be a huge commercial clamor to share the White Rock Lake prize. If it is not successful, would become an abandoned disaster.

  • KatieDancer

    Excellent ideas. Please present some of these at the next meeting.

  • Stephen Ingrum

    Yes, meal with a view, etc… All sounds womderful, BUT- we are not talking about an abandoned building. This is in developed black prairie- that is the citizens’ treasure that you can never get back. It is not the developers’ to take and destroy for any purpose. I feel like it’s the last redwood tree standing and people are arguing that it would be a good idea to chop it down make a wonderful deck. They will never have the right to take this away from Dallas.

  • KatieDancer

    They’ll build it then sell it to the highest bidder. Where interlopers, er, ‘developers’ are concern you have to follow the money.

  • KatieDancer

    Simple solution — food trucks.

  • KatieDancer

    Meal with a view? With an air-conditioned view!

  • Matthew Weyhe

    What is so compelling about having dinner with a view? Are we really so shallow and ignorant? We have enjoyed coming to the lake and surrounding areas for years, and finally moved to Old Lake Highlands – because it is a real community, with character and natural beauty. Leave the green spaces around White Rock Lake as they are – man does not improve on nature, but rather leaves his indelible ugly footprint. We would love to see the surrounding areas further improved, but leave Boy Scout Hill as it is – green, for nature to thrive so that we and future generations can celebrate that – not more greed and development.

  • Aaron M Stewart

    I dont like the idea of a restaurant on boy scout hill nor any other restaurants or bars within the lake and its parks. Reading a blog on DMN this week however, I did learn that in the 1940’s and 50’s there used to be conession stands and sandwich stands around the lake. To me this sounded like a win-win, something to bring back a bit of history, and allow a little commerce while also providing something people would maybe want. I think that should be an option worth exploring but not restaurants and bars.

  • Norman Alston

    First, what White Rock Lake is to the community today is the result of its own natural development and years of decision making in response to that development. It has become and is most desired as a natural area, an oasis from the urbanization that extends for miles in every direction. Despite the fact that it once had party boats, concession stands and water skiing, it makes no more sense to refer back to that former usage than it does to start drinking the water again.

    Next, what is the point of a not-for-profit commercial endeavor in this location? Even if your motives are altruistic, you could build a successful restaurant in any number of locations and allocate the profits to benefit the lake. You don’t have to do so AT the lake, so why? I think the neighborhoods are justified in their concern about the big picture. Is this the foot in the door for additional development in the future? A break-even but successful project to make the next one easier to get approved? Or was the rowing facility the true advanced guard for this effort?

    I like the idea of some commercial development adjacent to a part of White Rock Lake, but certainly not here. Down by the spillway would likely be the least intrusive, but our best chance at that may have been missed with the current plans for the renovated shopping center. If so, a White Rock Lake untouched by commercial intrusion is certainly not a consolation prize,

    So if you want a beautiful lake where you can have dinner and watch the sun set over the water, let’s go to another article and talk about the Trinity……….

  • Bruce

    So the developers are doing this out of a sense of civic duty? Are we to believe there is nothing in it for them than a display of civic virtue. Seems to me that they are expecting a monopoly at White Rock. I am not saying they are irresponsible or particularly underhanded, but I still don’t see why we need to use White Rock to generate $$

  • mdmost

    I don’t get why these two developers didn’t have mockups and everything ready to go before letting their intentions be known? If they had come prepared with plans, what things might look, and how much space may be used from the beginning then they’d have a much easier time convincing people or getting more buy in. Yes, they’ve been above board so far with getting neighborhood input and not going behind the area’s back to get something done but not having their plans out in the open from the get go was a huge mistake.

    This proposal could be a decent thing but there are a ton of huge downsides if it doesn’t work or the plan is deviated from. It would be naive to think that this would ensure no other restaurants or commercial spots get built in White Rock Lake Park. If you open the door to one then a case will be made later for more. I could see someone wanting the spot by the Little League fields. Or something near the Spillway. There are just too many what ifs for me to be comfortable with something permanent that will forever alter the Lake. People can bring up past Lake amenities and say how they worked for a time but that doesn’t mean those ideas were good ones such as parking cars on the grass. You also can’t compare White Rock Lake to larger lakes like Lake Lewisville or Lake Travis. We don’t allow speed boats, water skiing and other high noise activities at the lake.

    I’d rather see the city give money to add a proper boat launch for White Rock Paddle, something that truly fit a need at White Rock Lake. On Town Lake in Austin there are a couple of nice low impact ramps that let people get into their canoes and kayaks in a much easier fashion than what you have to do at White Rock. I wouldn’t mind a small cafe/coffee shop/snack place at the Dreyfuss Club spot as that was an existing spot for many years. Even non-permanent food trucks could be an actual amenity that anyone at the lake could use and there’s existing parking built in at the Dreyfuss Club area.

    I really don’t get this weird desire in Dallas to slap a piece of property down on any existing green space. We have so few green spaces and areas of natural beauty left. I’ll definitely be interested in seeing the plans for this but I have to say it’s going to take a lot of convincing for people to be comfortable with this. You can thank the Dallas Arboretum for a lot of this heavy sense of skepticism.

  • Scott

    There are eating establishments on every corner of every large city. But there is only one White Rock Lake Park. It should be preserved EXACTLY AS-IS in perpetuity so that generations of citizens can enjoy the unique preponderance of nature and, most notably, the lack of commerce and business that belongs in a strip mall or on top of a freeway. Please no restaurants, shopping or night-life at our peaceful urban retreat.

  • Lee Gibson

    OK, so what happens when this restaurant offers crummy food and lousy service and consequently doesn’t attract enough customers to stay in business? Restaurants, even some pretty good ones, shut down in this city on a regular basis. Opening a restaurant is a very iffy proposition and prospects for success are always minimal. When this one fails, we are stuck with an empty building and trashed parkland. No, no, no, no and no to this nutty and totally unnecessary idea.