Will the White Rock Lake restaurant proposal live or die?

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Attendees hold signs indicating a “thumbs down” to developers’ pitch for a restaurant Boy Scout Hill
Old Lake Highlands members hand out green 'Save Boy Scout Hill" ribbons and bracelets at the door.
Old Lake Highlands members hand out green ‘Save Boy Scout Hill” ribbons and bracelets at the door.

More than 500 people packed into the Lake Highlands Baptist Church sanctuary Tuesday night to hear Lyle Burgin and Richard Kopf make their pitch for a restaurant on White Rock Lake’s Boy Scout Hill — and to protest the proposal.

“We knew it would be mostly opponents,” Kopf says.

Just a week ago, the developers hired a public relations firm to help rally supporters and communicate their message, but the opposition is way ahead of them. Only a handful of attendees raised their hands in support of the restaurant, and none made it to a microphones.

Parts of the presentation prompted booing and hissing from the audience along with some emotional pleas from neighbors fighting to protect the lake from commercialization. It ended with remarks from City Councilman Sheffie Kadane — now the proud owner of a green “Save Boy Scout Hill” t-shirt. He previously told us he was “leaning with the neighborhoods” and last night pledged to oppose the restaurant.

“Once this comes before the city council, I will not be not approving this restaurant,” he says. “There’s no way I can approve a restaurant at White Rock Lake.”

Members of the Old Lake Highlands Neighborhood Association, who hosted the meeting, set the tone at the door, handing out green ribbons and bracelets. The odds clearly were stacked against Burgin and Kopf.

“Once this comes before the city council, I will not be not approving this restaurant.” —Councilman Sheffie Kadane

They went over much of what we’ve already reported, including the plan’s lease structure: build the restaurant with private funds, give it to the city and then pay about$250,000 a year in rent to a nonprofit run by existing groups around the lake (groups that have not supported the idea).

The developers say the restaurant would add to the annual $450,000 the park receives from the city, which “doesn’t go very far,” Burgin says.

“Like all of you, we are lovers of the lake,” Kopf says. “We ask that you keep an open mind. [The idea is] not to take away the park but provide an additional amenity at the lake.”

The site plan for the restaurant
The site plan for the restaurant

They pointed to a long list of other cities that have done similar projects on park land and even in national parks — the Loeb Boathouse in New York City’s Central Park, the Presidio Cafe in San Francisco and the Arizona Room at the Grand Canyon, to name a few.

One by one, concerned neighbors approached the microphones. One called the proposal “an arrogant and egregious violation of public trust,” accusing the developers of “under the table” dealings with the city to simply create a way to charge people for the best view in Dallas.

Kopf insisted they’ve played by the rules, following the advice of parks department director Willis Winters, who sent them to the White Rock Lake Task Force last fall before accepting any official proposal at City Hall. Since then, the developers slowly have been making the rounds to neighborhood groups.

A few residents north of the lake showed up in support of the restaurant, including Scott Johnson, a lifelong Lake Highlands resident and Lake Highlands High School graduate.

“What they’re proposing, if done right, could be a fantastic amenity,” Johnson says.

Bill Simms, past president of the Lake Highlands Exchange Club, says a restaurant would make the lake more accessible to everyone, not just the hikers, cyclists and sailors.

“It’s always the vocal minority that says ‘no.’ Until we confirm that that’s the preference of all the neighborhood associations and groups around the lake, we’re not going to give up.” —Lyle Burgin

“You have to have business in order to support infrastructure,” Simms says. “Everyone is for that, unless it’s in their own backyard.”

Still, an overwhelming majority of residents protested the plans. So what does the negative feedback mean for the developers? Do they move forward with their proposal or back off?

“It’s always the vocal minority that says ‘no,’” Burgin says. “Until we confirm that that’s the preference of all the neighborhood associations and groups around the lake, we’re not going to give up.”

Kopf says he and Burgin plan to bring the proposal back to the task force in June, but task force president Michael Jung says he may not want to wait that long. The 25-member board could take an official vote at its next meeting May 13.

The task force is only an advisory board, though. “We don’t have veto power,” Jung says. And their vote technically can’t keep the developers from taking the proposal to the parks board.

If the task force vote is unanimously against the restaurant, “We’re probably not going to go forward with it,” Kopf says. “But if it’s anything else … We’ll see what happens.”

Catch up on all of our previous coverage:

A restaurant at White Rock Lake — could it happen?

What would a White Rock Lake restaurant look like?

White Rock East neighbors rally to preserve White Rock Lake’s Blackland prairie

Watch: A tour of Boy Scout Hill courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife

The restaurant at White Rock Lake is not a done deal, and other facts getting lost in the debate

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

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  • Oak Cliff Townie

    Sadly I think the like minded people have been intentionally invited to the party late .

  • Betsy Whitfill

    It is not a fait accompli unless we accept the developers arguments as reasonable. What is reasonable is that parkland is for everyone and you don’t have to buy a drink to sit and enjoy the open air beauty of the view. Just because others are succumbing to the “enjoyments” of commercialization does not mean we have to follow along.
    Neighborhood groups being the nonprofit that runs the enterprise is not feasible because this will be a full out financial/commercial enterprise.

    If someone from Oak Cliff sees this as a done deal, that person does not know East Dallas/Lakewood/Lake Highlands people. Likeminded people everywhere know that keeping parkland open to all and not commercialized is a never-ending fight. It takes heart to protect Nature, not money.

  • Oak Cliff Townie

    After reading this article I see a restaurant at the end of this process So what will the compromise look like ? What kind of cuisine can we expect ? One last item How much will the TIF be ?

  • dallasmay

    Yeah, that’s pretty bad. I was really going to try to give the developers the benefit of the doubt before making judgments, but they have to figure out a better plan for their parking. That parking should be buried. There should be no surface lot.

  • Lee Gibson

    The Museum Tower example shows conclusively that Mr. Burgin has no regard whatsoever for areas surrounding his money-making developments.

  • Greg Brown

    Under this proposal, the developers get the money, the city is saddled with a restaurant, and the citizens lose green space. The developer gets reward with no risk. The city gets the risk. The citizens get the shaft.

  • Matthew Weyhe

    Yes, it is.

  • Matthew Weyhe

    When developed, it may as well be a parking lot with a pond in the middle. To Mr. Simms: what will be there to see when it’s made more “accessible to everyone”? It currently is accessible to everyone – who actually cares to enjoy nature as it is. Does accessibility to you mean to be served while you recline? Man does not improve on nature – he destroys it, unless we are proper stewards. This city is remarkable for its prosperity but doesn’t seem to care about it’s natural wealth.

  • Los_Politico

    Is this Lyle Burgin the same Lyle Burgin who co-developed Museum Tower?