The Park Board voted against adding parking at Randall, but could a compromise be next?

Melanie Vanlandingham speaks in opposition to the added parking lot.

A packed room awaited the Park Board for their meeting Thursday, which was set to reconsider a previously approved motion to build 22 parking spots to Randall Park near Woodrow Wilson High School.

The school district hopes to add 22 parking spots in the park to alleviate parking shortages caused by construction at Woodrow. But after heated comments from the community and discussion, the board voted 11-4 to deny the request for a parking lot on the corner of Randall Park.

Woodrow parents and Dallas ISD trustee Dustin Marshall were on hand to state their case for the new lot, while community members against the parking dug in.

Marshall said the added parking represented a win-win for the district and park, which share use of the athletic fields and parking in an inter-local agreement. He reiterated that the master plan for the park already calls for a larger parking area. He added that the proposed agreement would allow the school district to open its playgrounds to the public.

Lauren Larson, a Woodrow parent who is on the Site Based Decision-Making Committee who worked on this project, said that the Park Board “seriously lack good character.” Her comment received audible scoffs and grumbles from board members.

Woodrow parent Debra Bishop said she was “disgusted by the behavior of three Park Board members,” emphasizing that the lot would be built to help teachers. “I can’t even put it into words,” she said. “I can’t believe we have gone down this political road.”

Neighbors who opposed the parking lot lamented the fact that most of the park is already fenced off for athletic fields, longing for the days when the park was open green space. Neighbor Barbara Cohen pounded the dais to emphasize her point, “for the community and not for a specific group.”

It was clear the Park Board had changed its mind since the Nov. 2 vote. District 9 Park Board member Becky Rader, who initially made the motion to reconsider the motion, said “I remembered why I am on the Park Board. I am not here to make parking spaces in parks.”

Willis Winters, the director of the Park and Recreation Department, also weighed in, “Maintaining green space should always be the highest priority.”

Winters noted that he would be willing to find a compromise, including a lot that could be removed after use.

Board president Bobby Abtahi said that on the day of the Nov. 2 vote, Woodrow graduate and fellow Park Board member Jesse Moreno told him that the added parking lot was a win-win, but Moreno would vote against the motion at that meeting.

“I started to doubt myself,” Moreno said. “I don’t think we need that parking lot.”

Moreno also mentioned the idea of shuttling teachers or construction workers in from Samuell-Grand Park, about a mile away.

Abtahi, who voted in favor of the new parking lot, made a passionate plea for compromise on the issue, noting how it pits neighbor against neighbor, and schools against parks. “This is why people hate city hall,” he said, attacking the pragmatism of shuttling teachers. “We are not coming to a solution if we aren’t intellectually honest. It doesn’t matter what the city council says, we need to take politics out of the decision making.”

Paul Sims, the Park Board member in whose district Randall Park sits, suggested a motion to designate some of the existing parking at Randall for teachers during construction. As members began discussing the proposal, a city attorney interrupted, noting that no amendments could be made to the now defeated motion. The proposal will be put on the agenda for a future Park Board meeting.

Mayor Mike Rawlings had independently put the item on the Dec. 13 City Council agenda, meaning that if motion receives council approval, the parking would be built, but Robert Wilonsky at the Dallas Morning News wrote that the item will be taken off the agenda after the Park Board vote.

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